FULTON COUNTY -- About four-and-a-half years ago, the Gelman family, owners of EMVI Chocolate, moved from Brooklyn to Johnstown so Dr. Irina Gelman could become Fulton County's public health director.
In the short time they've lived in Fulton County, they've had a big impact on both the public and private sectors. Gelman spearheaded Fulton County's telehealth program, the first virtual health portal in New York state to include both mental health and preventative health components. The program helped earn her recognition as a 2018 New York State Woman of Distinction by the state Senate.
Meanwhile, her husband, Victor Gelman, built EMVI Chocolate (the name is an acronym using Gelman family members' first initials: Emily, Mia, Michael, Victor and Irina) into a 3,700-square-foot seasonal chocolate factory on Route 29 in Broadalbin, complete with viewing windows that allow customers to watch as the chocolate is made.
Now they're moving again, as Irina Gelman takes a new job as public health commissioner for Orange County, a job she will start in mid-July.
Irina Gelman said she's grateful for the opportunity to advance the cause of rural public health initiatives in Fulton County, including telehealth and geocaching, a kind of fitness-encouraging outdoor scavenger hunt promoted on the county's public health Facebook page.
"Some of the initiatives were kind of, I would say, on the cutting edge of public health, with a lot of forward-moving momentum," she said.
Fulton County Administrator Jon Stead said he was involved in recruiting Irina Gelman to Fulton County. He said she's had a great impact during her tenure.
"She brought kind of a very upbeat, optimistic personality to the county," Stead said. "She's led the department into a lot of new innovative ideas -- telehealth obviously being one that was near and dear to her heart right from when she was first entering service with us, so she really kind of adapted into the community, and people seemed to get along with her well."
Gelman, who's also been working on her Ph.D. dissertation related to telehealth, explained the basic components of the telehealth pilot program: Using state grant funding of about $80,000, the county was able to purchase computer servers, cameras and lights to set up three virtual health portal kiosks -- one each at Fulton Montgomery Community College, the Fulton County Office for the Aging and the Fulton County Public Health Department.
The system allows county health personnel to provide health care information and steer people toward healthcare providers, based on information transmitted through the video system. Gelman said the system will save the county money by limiting the need for in-person consultations, which require travel expenses and more staff time. She said the system will likely expand after her departure.
"Currently, we're working on a countywide app that would be free and made available to the entire population of Fulton County, where every resident of the county will be able to tap into the free app on their devices and be able to connect to a local health provider," Irina Gelman said. "That is the ultimate goal -- to ensure that residents can connect with all of these organizations in real time via a free platform."
Another Gelman initiative that will continue after the family leaves will be EMVI Chocolate.
Victor Gelman said it took him about a year-and-a-half to build the manufacturing operation in Broadalbin, and he expects it will take at least that long to move it to Orange County, if he chooses to do that.
"This is my favorite place that I have ever lived," Victor Gelman said. "My heart is staying here, and I'm not going anywhere right now. I will be here five out of the seven days a week, minimum, for the next year."
Victor Gelman said EMVI Chocolate will continue with its regular schedule -- opening in October and closing on Easter Sunday. After next year, he isn't certain what will happen, but he intends to at least maintain his retail operation locally, possibly partnering with Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market and the Liberty Fresh Market in Amsterdam.
"A lot of things can happen in a year," he said. "We have employees who've been with us for several years, and we treat our people very good and they represent organizational learning, and I trust them and, in theory, a very large portion of manufacturing could stay here without me being present at all, in theory. So, there's a lot of things that could happen."
Irina Gelman, who also serves as treasurer for the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the family will miss Fulton County.
"We've been grateful for the chance to reside here among such amazing people," she said. "It was an honor and a privilege to serve the Fulton County Board of Supervisors and the people here."