Since after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March, Allen County Department of Health administrator Mindy Waldron has worked 235 days straight.
It’s the nature of working in the health field, with over 7,400 COVID-19 cases in Allen County and 209 deaths as of Oct. 16. Staff have had to talk to each one of those more than 7,400 patients about his/her illness and conducted contract tracing to everyone they had been in contact with. Allen County’s staff has a 95% contact rate for tracing, when the state and national averages are in the low 80s, she said.
“For us, COVID is all day, every day,” Waldron told Allen County Council members Oct. 15 as she described a department that must quickly respond to state orders and the added work it involves.
It’s the reason Waldron appeared before council with a request for more money for her department.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced May 1 that $300 million in federal reimbursement funds would be coming into communities as reimbursement for COVID-19 expenditures. The money must be for expenses incurred until Dec. 31.
In May, council gave supplemental pandemic pay to health department exempt workers who worked March-midMay at a rate of $2.50 per hour worked. Council on Oct. 15 approved giving more supplemental pandemic pay from May 18 onward.
The county is submitting this week a request for $8 million for the Allen County Sheriff’s Department to reimburse overtime for workers May-October, said Nick Jordan.
Seven days a week health department staff are talking to schools, businesses and the public; conducting outreach; following Holcomb’s executive orders and federal mandates; reviewing 150 event plans, not counting large event centers.
Allen County had a cache of personal protective equipment, giving out 80,000 masks, 157,000 gloves, 3,200 gowns, 539 gallons of hand sanitizer to 257 sites. A hotline operating five days a week has taken over 5,000 calls. A school hot line has been added.
Several employees aren’t doing the jobs they were hired for because COVID-19 requires all the attention.
“We’ve hired food inspectors who’ve not done a food inspection yet. All they’ve done is a mask complaint.”
The department has responded to 633 complaints, resulting in nearly 600 inspections.
The health department opened two new testing sites in October: 3003 Lake Ave. and 1230 Ruston Pass. Waldron has contracted with 18 part-timers for the sites, which are free and unrestricted.
90% of the cost of testing sites will covered by the state; the rest will come from the Allen County Commissioners or her department.
She’s been told that the testing sites must remain open until at least June 2021.
Her latest job has been to get a plan for COVID-19 vaccinations once a drug is available.
“We hear there will be a trickle of vaccine by the end of the year that will be directly dedicated to health care professionals, like direct-ship to hospitals and to long-term care facility,” she said.
The second phase would go to essential professionals, such as firefighters, police, medics and at-risk groups. Phase 3 would be the public, which likely will be in summer 2021.
“And currently there isn’t any money coming for vaccinations,” she said. “That will take a very long time and it will take a lot of nursing staff, which we don’t have, because we’ll still be doing testing and we’ll still be doing contact tracing. So we’re figuring that out day by day.”
Despite Allen County being the third-largest county in population in the state with Fort Wayne being the second-largest city, the county ranks 57th in public health staffing, Waldron said.
“This has made it abundantly clear, we are strapped,” she said.