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Hastings retires as health director

The Cattaraugus County Department of Health is preparing to vaccinate about 47,000 people very quickly against the swine flu virus but Barbara Hastings will not be overseeing the mass vaccination.

She has retired as the county's director of public health, effective Friday.

Hastings, a 33-year employee of the Health Department, served as director for the past nine years. She led the county's unprecedented planning efforts, uniting other health agencies and the region in preparation for this pandemic response, and other potential biological, chemical and radiological public health events.

Hastings was offered the job of public health nurse when she visited the department for information to write a college research paper in 1976. She became supervising public health nurse in 1991, and starting in 1997, served five years as assistant medical director in the Department of Social Services.

Ironically, a stipulation of her employment with the county in 1976 was that she not be required to participate in clinics for the controversial swine flu vaccines of that era. She also was successful at keeping the name of her new employer hidden from her father, a Cattaraugus County legislator at the time who eschewed nepotism.

Overseeing about 100 employees in her department and a budget of more than $9 million, Hastings has served during the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the resulting terrorism response planning. She guided the board in implementing the Clean Indoor Air Act amendment that bans smoking in most public places and has recently urged an end to granting several waivers now in effect for a select group of bars and establishments around the county.

Hastings steered the institution of electronic record-keeping for home-care nurses, as well as a reorganization of the department's computerized accounting system.

And she guided a move to contract for services during chronic nursing and home-care staff shortages. She took the opportunity last week during her final meeting with the Cattaraugus County Legislature's Human Services Committee to request funding in 2010 for additional nursing positions.

Hastings credited a "self-directed" staff with "great ideas" for the department's progress in devising a strategic plan, and in meeting challenges including the early August flood emergencies in Gowanda, Silver Creek and other locations.

She said recently that "it's better to retire too early than too late," and said her wish now is to spend more time with her family and to reach "greater heights as an individual."

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