The choice of Heidi Bond, “General in the Fight Against COVID-19,” as we put it, has been seconded by many since the “Citizen of the Year” edition appeared last week. She and her team at the Otsego County Department of Health rose to the challenge.
All of us thank her for her tireless contributions in 2020.
Otsego County has been lucky in leadership this year. Here are four other individuals who shone, and there are many others who, unheralded, have as well.
One, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, who returned Jan. 20 from a 12-month deployment in Djibouti with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, Army Reserves, expecting to settle back into civilian life with wife Amy, daughter Mia, now 12, and son Cooper, 7.
Instead, he went from one foxhole to another.
By the end of March, he was in the midst of COVID-19, and county government found itself in a financial crisis, laying off 58 FTEs, and looking ahead to a hefty tax increase.
Then came the Ruffles Plan, which the first-term treasurer developed in consultation with colleagues in similar-sized counties: one, cuts; two, borrowing; three, chase limited money still flowing from Albany.
The plan reduced the deficit from $13.5 million to $5.4 million; borrows $4 million over 20 years at a historically low interest rate (1.0033 percent), and front-loads road work next spring (CHIPS money is still flowing from Albany).
This kept the county 2021 budget under the 2-percent tax cap.
Ruffles could have been buried under county-budgeting minutiae, but was able to see the big picture: COVID isn’t going to last forever – it could be at bay in weeks, certainly months. Then, tourism will return, sales tax will return – and the county will be able to fulfill its obligations.
Two, Tommy Ibrahim, recruited from nine-hospital Integris in Oklahoma with a goal of elevating quality and efficiency at the eight-county Bassett Healthcare Network, and returning it to profitability.
He arrived in June, and by December announced implementation of “OneBassett,” flattening the five “silos” – the five hospitals – and managing them horizontally, by discipline.
It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around, but Google “Bassett Hospital HR” and see how hiring, formerly scattered across the system, has been unified, a one-stop shop to getting a job at Basset, if you will.
Think it through. You can see how organizing and managing Bassett services individually – enabled by technology that wasn’t there a few years ago – could raise efficiency and lower costs across the board.
This isn’t just theoretical. Bassett has lost money for four years. Ibrahim – “call me Tommy,” he’ll say when you meet him – expects “OneBassett” to put the system at break-even by the end of 2021 and in the black after that.
A prosperous Bassett is essential to our aggregated health, prosperity and quality of life. Important stuff.
Three and Four: SUNY Oneonta’s new president, Dennis Craig, and the new SUNY chancellor, Jim Malatras.
A “super spreader” event on Friday, Aug. 21, the first weekend students returned, had pushed on-campus “positives” to 107 within a week.
Sunday, Aug. 30, the new chancellor was at SUNY Oneonta, trying to figure out what went wrong. And he acted, suspending classes for two weeks. As positives went over 300, he closed the campus for the semester.
By mid-October, campus President Barbara Jean Morris had resigned and, to succeed her, Malatras named Dennis Craig, who as president of SUNY Purchase kept a campus outbreak to seven cases in New Rochelle.
Craig’s action team came up with a plan of reopening within two weeks, and he successfully quelled a faculty revolt, and lined up enough support to aim at reopening on Feb. 1.
This is leadership.
In crisis, leaders emerge. And that happened here. Happily, identifying Heidi Bond and four other high-profile leaders doesn’t take anything away from the many others.
County Board chair David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Middlefield, as he does so well, brought together the talent around him – Ruffles, Meg Kennedy, Bond, Brian Pokorny and many others.
The mayors of Oneonta and Cooperstown, Gary Herzig and Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch respectively, Bill Streck in his final weeks at Bassett’s helm, and his COVID team, were all great.
And this doesn’t mention all of our fellow citizens who soldiered on – businesspeople and non-profits alike – and church, and schools, and police, and …
The point is, there are a lot of people we can thank as Otsego County begins to come back to life in 2021.