Shock expressed over planned discontinuation of WIC

Open Door Vice President Andrea Ruggiero (left) and CEO Lindsay Farrell (right) discuss their agency’s role with WIC while Legislators Nancy Montgomery (not pictured), Ginny Nacerino and Paul Jonke listen

CARMEL – Putnam County’s WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program has been providing guidance and nutrition as well as positive prenatal and obstetrical outcomes for residents of the county for decades.

That program may end on September 31 with as many as 11 county employees, both full- and part-time losing their jobs, in favor of turning the initiative over to the non-profit Open Door clinic.

The news was reported at Thursday’s meeting of the county Legislature’s Personnel Committee when Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Nesheiwat was asked by committee Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino to explain the scenario that has led to the proposed discontinuation of WIC that serves 1,100-1,200 residents annually.

Dr. Nesheiwat began his discussion by admitting “this has been an extremely difficult decision but decisions have to be made that protect the efficiency and economics of the people we serve throughout the county.”

He said while WIC may no longer be affiliated with the county, “WIC services will be made available through Open Door, which already provides HIV services, women’s health, mental health, family planning, nutrition, client disease education and management.” He said after meeting with Open Door administration, “We have been assured the services will be continued.”

Dr. Nesheiwat recalled how in 1999, the county discontinued mental health services as well as its Home Care agency in 2010. “Both have prospered since that time under private agencies. It’s unfortunate but decisions must be made to protect the people of Putnam County in a proper fiscal manner.”

In 2018, the county lost $125,000 in WIC expenses and according to the Health Department’s Finance Officer William Orr, the county is slated to lose more than $100,000 in WIC expenses this year.

WIC is funded through a five-year, $437,000 grant that expires at the end of 2020.

Chairwoman Nacerino noted, “Making decisions to eliminate such a program are very difficult but they must be made for the greater good.”

Legislator Nancy Montgomery of Philipstown, who serves on the committee along with Legislator Paul Jonke of Southeast, voiced her strong opposition to the elimination.

“WIC is an essential service. Besides, it is terribly unfair to terminate the jobs of four full-time dedicated employees in addition to a number of part-timers. This is not a good idea. Such an untimely decision will be another nail in the coffin for our county workers who have been working without a contract since 2016,” she said.

In 2010, former state Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Banes visited the WIC office in Brewster and commended the program calling it “one of the finest in New York State.”

He congratulated the staff for its hard work and dedication that he said “ensured all babies and young families receive the nutritious foods needed during critical times in their lives.”

Following the initial discussion, Lindsay Farrell, president and CEO of Open Door and Andrea Ruggiero, Open Door’s vice president of Community Health, presented an overview of their agency.

Open Door opened its facility in Brewster in 2013 joining other sites throughout Westchester County including Mt. Kisco, Sleepy Hollow and Ossining and as far north as Saugerties in Ulster County.

Last year Open Door clinics treated 57,000 men, women and children and delivered more than 500 babies.

Farrell said her organization would be more than happy to interview current county employees assigned to the WIC office in Brewster should the agency close.

Following an hour of sometimes heated debate, the matter was tabled until next month when Personnel Director Paul Eldridge was asked to be in attendance.

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