Cooperative aims to make Hilltown homes safer, healthier

HILLTOWNS — After spending six years delivering health and safety products to targeted ZIP codes in the city of Albany, Cornell Cooperative Extension Albany County is doing the same for the Hilltowns. 

Powered by a grant from MVP Healthcare, the Hilltowns Healthy Homes Program aims to make homes in the rural Helderbergs healthier and safer through the delivery of products in the categories of home safety, child safety, asthma control, sanitation, personal safety, and pest management. 

Cornell Cooperative Extension will also arrange for educators to consult with residents on safest home practices and find out what exactly they need to enact them. 

Nancy Lerner, issue leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension Albany County, told The Enterprise that, once the cooperative knows a resident is interested, representatives will reach out with questions by phone, but are willing to visit homes when necessary, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

“We’re still doing visits virtually,” Lerner said, “so we ask them questions over the phone. If they want to show us something … that’s totally, totally fine, but most of them are over the phone. And then we get the supplies ready that they need.

“So, for example,” she went on, “we’ll ask them, ‘Do you have working smoke detectors?’ And a common answer might be, ‘I have smoke detectors but took the batteries out to use my kid’s toy, so it needs batteries, and another hasn’t worked since last Christmas.’ So, if they don’t have working smoke detectors, we’ll be there sooner than later, and we will install them, unless they have someone else who can install them.”

Other specific items that can be delivered through the program include flashlights, carbon-monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, baking soda and vinegar (for cleaning), allergen barriers, and pest traps. 

And because Cornell Cooperative Extension is part of a referral network, items that aren’t commonly provided by the program, like cribs, can sometimes be procured through a third party and delivered to a family in need.

“We work with a lot of different associations and organizations and different groups,” Lerner said. “We’re very active in something called the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative [GHHI] … So let’s say there’s an asthmatic person in the home and there’s tons of mold, and the reason there’s mold is because the roof is leaking. We have a person who goes in and can identify that. So a healthy homes educator will ask if there’s mold in the house, and then if they say yes, they’ll do a referral to this GHHI program.

“We’ll have a person go in and physically do the assessment,” Lerner said, “which is definitely more comprehensive. They’ll confirm that, ‘Yup, it’s a huge leak, but it’s only in one portion of the roof and we can patch it.’ And we don’t do the [patching] work, but someone could patch it, and so we refer them to entities that could help them use public dollars.”

Lerner explained that, although a roof repair could cost thousands of dollars, the mold removal may wind up saving a family or individual thousands more in healthcare costs that result from mold contamination. 

One big focus of the program is environmental asthma treatment. Lerner, after noting that she does not have a formal medical background, said, “You could probably go to the best allergist or immunologist or doctor for asthma control, you could be on the best meds, but if you’re living in a … toxic environment, if you have asthma triggers in your home, you’re never going to get that asthma under control. You never, never, never will.”

So the program tries to identify those problems, Lerner said. “Say their 10-year-old child has asthma, and we’ll say ‘Do you have pets?’ They have two furry dogs and three furry cats and — I’m exaggerating here — they all sleep with the 10-year-old in his bed. That’s the trigger right there — huge asthma trigger. So we suggest not killing off the animals but making a nice bed for them in the living room or anywhere away from the child.”

And although the cooperative can’t write prescriptions for things like inhalers, it can use its referral program to obtain inhalers or other prescribed medical materials on behalf of the residents. 

“We have those referrals and connections,” Lerner said. 

Some solutions to home-based concerns are even simpler, once the right materials are in hand. 

“We also give out cleaning products,” Lerner said, “which are more for lead. And we explain why, if they have children, especially young children, we want them wiping their window sill at least once a day if their home was built before 1978. If they have children, lead dust is going to accumulate, so that’s one way to get rid of it.”


The Hilltowns Healthy Homes Program serves Hilltown residents regardless of income. Those interested may call 518-765-3512, or email

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