WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — Rural communities make up most of the North Country, which creates unique dynamics in the healthcare field.

Pat Fontana, Deputy Director of Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, said that rural communities are subject to different challenges in the healthcare field such as transportation, digital deserts, higher chronic disease rates and mental health issues.

“There are challenges that are unique to rural health that our urban counterparts generally don’t have or if they do, it’s not to the same extent,” Fontana said.

To highlight the contributions of rural healthcare workers FDRHPO recently honored three first responders as community “Health Heroes” during its annual National Rural Health Day celebration.

Anthony Coles, Robert Mackenzie III and James Moore from Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, respectively, were honored at the event.

According to FDRHPO, the Community Health Hero Award recognizes North Country residents who have demonstrated “outstanding public service” and are committed to improving their communities.

Coles is a Crisis Outreach Worker for the Children’s Home of Jefferson County, where he responds to individual crisis calls made to a 24/7 hotline. He was highlighted for his work assisting individuals obtain housing, food and other fundamental resources.

Mackenzie is the Director of Fire and Emergency Management in Lewis County, a role he has held since 2014. He first gained experience in the EMS field as a volunteer EMT after changing careers from the trucking industry. He is a CPR instructor as well as a Department of Homeland Security Intelligence Officer.

Moore is Gouverneur Hospital’s emergency department nurse manager, which treats approximately 7,500 patients annually. He was nominated by Jeremy Slaga, former president of Gouverneur Hospital, who said he significantly contributed to the hospital’s high ranking in New York State. Moore also is the Fire Chief of Morristown’s Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company.

Nominations for the award were accepted from the community at large, with winners selected by members of the North Country Health Compass Partners.

Fontana explained that Cole, Mackenzie and Moore all embrace many challenges by always stepping up to help in times of need.

“You find that our community health heroes and really anyone who works in rural health care, they’re not wearing one hat,” he said. “Generally they wear multiple hats. They fulfill multiple roles in the workforce because they have to. That’s what rural communities have to do.”

The Community Health Heroes award ceremony took place on Monday, November 7 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Watertown.