January 27, 2022

A hectic year for health

COVID twice as bad in ’21, but cancer center opens, too

Photo provided by Guthrie Cortland Medical Center

Registered oncology nurses Judy Norris and Tara Cottrell deliver chemotherapy to Lennie Conger on Monday at the Renzi Cancer Center at Guthrie Cortland Medical Center. The $10.6 million cancer center opened earlier this year.

The coronavirus pandemic has been at the forefront of health-related news for the past 19 months, but it’s not the only newsworthy health event Cortland County has seen in 2021.

These are among the top health-related stories of 2021:


At the beginning of 2021, the nation was trying to recover from the winter surge following weeks of social gatherings — a fate experts anticipate this winter as well. But COVID has been twice as hard on the greater Cortland area in 2021 as in 2020.

As of Dec. 31, 2020, Cortland County had seen 2,511 cases and 38 deaths; Tompkins saw 2,114 cases and 14 deaths and Cayuga 2,997 cases and 23 deaths.

With three days to go in 2021, Cortland has seen another 5,212 cases — more than twice what it saw in 2020. It has seen 51 deaths, too. Tompkins County has seen nearly 8,900 new cases in the year, and 56 deaths; Cayuga has seen nearly 8,000 cases and 97 deaths.

In February, the COVID-19 vaccine became available for people with underlying health conditions. Over the next several weeks, public-facing essential employees would become eligible and the age requirement would lower. By April 6, everyone 16 years and older could get the vaccine, then kids as young as 12 a month later. Kids 5 to 11 were eligible by early November.

As of Thursday, 56.4% of Cortland County residents are fully vaccinated against the virus, still short of the level where herd immunity begins to provide protection.

The highly contagious Delta variant made its way to New York in July, quickly becoming the dominant COVID-19 strain. The next variant, Omicron, was confirmed in the state the first week of December and has spread to 12 states and counting.


Guthrie Cortland Medical Center unveiled its new cancer center in early September, after nearly
two years of planning and construction.

In April, Cortlandville resident Nicholas Renzi, a retired Pall Trinity Micro Division president, was revealed to be the anonymous donor who gave a $1 million matching grant toward the $10.6 million facility. Now, the Renzi Cancer Center honors his wife, Agnes, who died in February 2020.

The 10,825-square-foot facility includes private rooms for exams, patient meetings and procedures, an on-site pharmacy, 10 chemotherapy infusion chairs, lab phlebotomy stations and a state-of-the-art linear accelerator for targeted radiation treatment.

Todd R. McAdam/file photo

Guthrie project manager Travis Vogell, left, and Marie Carter-Darling, executive director of Guthrie Medical Group, tour the Renzi Cancer Center at Guthrie Cortland Medical Center last April.

Staff from the two previous sites will be in one place, so patients can receive radiation and chemotherapy treatments and see specialists all in one facility. Guthrie has stated the expansion of the cancer center could play a role in economic development in the future.


In July, the city of Cortland was on pace to far exceed the number of drug overdoses and overdose fatalities set in 2020 — city police statistics showed 47 overdoses and four fatalities around that halfway point for 2021.

In all of 2020, city police were called to just 55 overdoses, seven fatal — a record-setting year at the time.

On Aug. 31, Central New York addiction support services organizations had a candlelight vigil at Courthouse Park in Cortland to remember those who have died from an overdose as part of International Overdose Awareness Day.

Experts believe self-isolation, economic worries and health concerns likely contributed to a national rise in overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a February report by the Journal of American Medical Association Psychiatry.

In the city of Cortland, about 60% of overdose calls involved heroin, while bath salts accounted for another significant portion, city police reported in July. Often, what is assumed to be heroin could be bath salts or include fentanyl or brorphine, which increases the risk of overdose.

Community organizations, including Cortland Area Communities That Care and the Healing Hearts Collaborative, advocate for syringe exchange programs, the wide distribution of naloxone kits and available training to help stop overdoses and for outreach services to support families during treatment and recovery.


Mental health has become an increasingly important topic for people throughout the pandemic. Ten percent of Cortland County residents report having 14 or more poor mental health days a month, the state Health Department reported earlier this month.

The pandemic has redefined learning for students and teachers. Remote education and hybrid learning have taken an emotional toll as well impeding some students’ flexibility and self-reliance.

In November, volunteers from Family Counseling Services and the Mental Health Association of Cortland distributed apples to teachers countywide to show appreciation and connect staff with their mental health resources and services.

Depression among adults in the U.S. tripled at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, and has persisted into 2021 and worsened — now affecting 1 in 3 Americans in 2021, according to a Boston University study.

SPEAK UP Cortland, a suicide prevention coalition through Family Counseling Services of Cortland County, wants to raise awareness for suicide prevention efforts. Family Counseling Services, the Cortland County Mental Health Department and police departments work together to fight the stigma of mental health and offer services.


Before its closure in late 2020, Jacobus Center for Reproductive Health in Cortland helped prevent teen pregnancy through its programs, but Cortland County closed the clinic in September 2020.

Now, a new family planning center within Family and Children’s Counseling Services of Cortland County will continue the Jacobus Center’s work and provide other services when it opens next month.

Following the closure of the Jacobus Center, attention was raised on where people would go for reproductive health services. Family and Children’s Counseling Services had been looking to provide those services but saw an opportunity to partner with Family Planning of South Central New York to create the center sooner.

The new center is set to open in January, offering both urgent and non-urgent gynecological and reproductive healthcare services, including birth control, annual exams, cancer screening and testing and treatment for urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted infections.