WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — In honor of National Rural Health Day, three local health leaders have been named heroes.

Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization and North Country Health Compass Partners have named the recipients of the 2021 Community Health Hero Award. A recipient was chosen in each of Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

In Jefferson County, Samaritan Medical Center Chief of Hospital Medicine was given the 2021 award. Dr. Asim Kichloo has recently served as Director of Samaritan’s COVID-19 unit during the pandemic. His nominators for the award said, “he has embraced this role with all its risks, responsibilities and exposure to death because he feels a great responsibility to help those around him.”

Dr. Kichloo also mentors and educates doctors-in-training as Samaritan’s Internal Medicine Residency Program Director.

In Lewis County, Retired Licensed Practical Nurse Suzanne Matuszczak was named this year’s health hero. Matuszczak is a Lewis County native and has worked in the healthcare field in the county her entire career. This included being a nursing instructor at Jefferson-Lewis BOCES.

However, Matuszczak was highlighted for her volunteer work during the COVID_19 pandemic when she assisted Lewis County Public Health in vaccinating community members. According to her daughter “, she is a huge advocate for individuals to get vaccinated and took it upon herself to reach out to her friends and family to let them know when she was working so she could give them the vaccine.”

St. Lawrence County’s 2021 Community Health Hero is Dr. Andrew Williams who holds many roles in the county. This includes Chief Medical Officer for Community Health Center of the North Country, Associate Chief Medical Officer at St. Lawrence Health, President of the St. Lawrence County Board of Health, and Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine.

Dr. Williams was noted for spending time providing care to the local Amish community. During the pandemic, he provided education on physical distancing and mask-wearing to the Amish community. According to his nominator, Dr. Williams’ “leadership throughout the COVID pandemic has been mission-critical to the response of healthcare providers in St. Lawrence County and the entire North Country region.”

All three community health heroes were awarded on National Rural Health Day as they have demonstrated public service and “a commitment to improving the health and wellness of their community.”

“Rural communities often face unique challenges that can have a lasting impact on overall health and wellness, a current example being the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to disproportionately impact our region,” FDRHPO Director of Population Health Pat Fontana said in a press release. “The purpose of the Community Health Hero awards is to recognize special individuals in our rural communities who have done extraordinary things to help mitigate those health challenges and provide a better quality of life for rural residents. We are fortunate to have Sue Matuszczak, Dr. Williams, and Dr. Kichloo caring for the North Country community.”

Nominations for the award were accepted from the community and winners were selected by members of the North Country Health Compass Partners.