Health & Wellness

Health Educator Sees Improvements Happening in Cattaraugus County

Debra Nichols, public health educator for the Cattaraugus County Health Department, outlines the department's services during a talk at St. Bonaventure University. Credits: Richard Lee

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – Though Cattaraugus County ranks near the bottom in the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps for New York State, the public health educator for the Cattaraugus County Health Department points to the strides being made to help residents follow healthier lifestyles.

“I know there are great things going on here in Cattaraugus County and you do too,” Debra Nichols told the group of St. Bonaventure University employees gathered for the March 20 Souper Monday. “Whether you work here, live here, worship here or play here, there are many good things that are not always detectable in the health county rankings.”

When Nichols noted that during the past three years the county has been rated “ anywhere from 55 to 60,” one member of the audience responded with a simple “Wow.”

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The health educator spoke of an initiative that she admits makes her “smile like a proud mother”: the Cattaraugus County Healthy Livable Communities Consortium. Begun in 2011 to raise awareness for healthy living, the consortium hosts meetings four times a year to show residents how to live healthier lifestyles and how to put their children on the path to healthy and active lives. Meetings usually last two hours and include snacks and an exercise break.

The first meeting of 2017 is scheduled for March 30 at Bethany Lutheran Church, 6 Leo Moss Drive in Olean.

“I’m so proud of that group and the work that we’ve done,” Nichols said.

Nichols cited poverty as a primary reason for unhealthy lifestyles that include the lack of proper nutrition.

“We can’t expect a young single parent, whether it is a mother or father, to feed their children food from Tops or Wegmans – which is in another county – in the expensive produce section,” Nichols said.

Among the solutions designed by the health department is the Veggie Mobile, which supplies fresh produce to residents of housing projects at little to no cost.

“We bring the food to them from farms and other places outside the area. The people there show parents and children how to make something fun,” Nichols said.

Consumers also are provided with coupons to use at farm stands and farmers’ markets.

During her presentation, Nichols also talked about rabies in the county, where eight cases have been confirmed in the past 12 months. She noted the importance of keeping up with rabies immunizations and that the county has regularly scheduled clinics.

“We work with thousands of animals every year,” Nichols said. “We have incidents where if you have a raccoon wandering in the middle of the day or going near your pets if they are outside, if they are not vaccinated we have to treat your pet.”

Bats also contribute to the rabies problems. Nichols noted that bats are not necessarily rabid and that they have a helpful environmental role in eating insects such as mosquitos. “They tend to hide under mattresses or in your curtains,” she said.

Still, even a tiny scratch from a bat can cause rabies, and in order to test a bat for rabies, the animal’s head is needed.

“If we don’t have the head – because the brain has to be checked – you’re gonna have to be treated…even a tiny scratch to you or your child,” Nichols said .

Cattauragus County, she told the Souper Monday group, is the oldest health department in New York State, and she was working for the department when it observed its 75th and 90th anniversaries.

"Wonder what we will do for the 100th," she said. 

Further information on the health department is available at

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