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Hathaway retirement provides St. Lawrence County with opportunity

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CANTON — The closing of the St. Lawrence County Certified Home Health Agency and the subsequent retirement of Public Health Director Susan J. Hathaway could give the county an opportunity for restructuring.

“Anytime somebody leaves, we’re going to take a look at reorganizing the department,” Legislative Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, said. “I’m not sure if that’s possible or not, but we’ll take a look.”

Ms. Hathaway, who acknowledged the last year was stressful with the county’s decision to close the home health service, will retire Aug. 30.

“It’s been a rough few years with many programs being cut,” she said. “It’s a time of a lot of change for Public Health and it’s hard for people who have worked here, sometimes for 35 years. There’s more change ahead. I am of retirement age and it’s just time.”

Ms. Hathaway said she plans to move to Asheville, N.C.

Last year, the county turned down an $80,000 offer to sell the home health service, listened to staff pleas to rebuild the agency, then turned around and closed it — eventually laying off more than 30 employees — because it did not think it could compete with private providers.

“When you’ve had a career developing Public Health, to dismantle it as Sue had to do was probably the last straw. I think it took a significant toll on her,” said Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler. “I have nothing but admiration and respect for Sue Hathaway. She did what had to be done and what had to be done was not particularly pleasant.”

Legislator Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk, agreed Ms. Hathaway had a rough go.

“She certainly presided over a difficult time in Public Health,” she said. “I think she was going to face a lot of changes. She talked about the stress and I understand that.”

Legislators have not yet approached how to fill the void that will be left when Ms. Hathaway leaves.

“Certainly there will be changes, because you’re dealing with a smaller department,” Mrs. Brothers said. “We know we have to do a search.”

The county has struggled in recent years to keep a permanent public health director.

Before Ms. Hathaway’s appointment in 2009, the department had been without a permanent director since Kathryn S. Abernethy resigned in 2005. Ms. Abernethy was the first permanent director since Mark C. Stoddart left in 2001.

“Public Health has been a constant problem as far as finding leadership,” Mr. MacKinnon said. “It may take some time to find a replacement.”

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