By Sarah Richardson
At the latest Greenbrier County Board of Health meeting held at the Greenbrier County Health Department (GCHD), a new Board member was welcomed and the chairman and vice-chairman positions were secured for the next two years. Lisa Redden, Director of Human Resources and Marketing at Rainelle Medical Center, was officially welcomed to her first board meeting since being sworn into the position by County Commissioner Tammy Shifflett-Tincher earlier this month.
In attendance for the socially-distanced meeting were Lewisburg Mayor Beverly White, County Commissioner and Board of Health Chairman Lowell Rose, Sanitarian Sarah Woody, Director of Nursing/Administrator Nikki Dolan, Health Officer Dr. Bridgett Morrison, Administrative Services Assistant Ashley Butler, Kim Estep, and Board of Health Vice Chairman Drema Mace.
Board members unanimously voted to keep Rose as Chairman of the Board, and Mace as the Vice Chair. Mace noted, “Lowell, it is a pleasure to work with you, you are such a good chairman of this board. You are very thoughtful in your decisions, you know the county and you know the people. I just can’t imagine anybody better to be our Chairman for the Board of Health. Thank you.”
Butler provided a financial update on the state of the Health Department, which she stated is “very good, considering everything that’s happened.”
“I think we are in a lot better of a position than a lot of other health departments,” she said. “We’ve been pretty responsible through the year, and we are in the black, so that’s good. We have reserve funds in the bank, as we’re supposed to have. Not all health departments have those, so if something would change here and [the state] would quit sending us money, we would be ok for a little while.”
The Board discussed ELC grants that have been recently been awarded to the department. ELC stands for Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Prevention and Control of Emerging Infectious Diseases, and were administered under the CARES Act.
“The state awarded eight regional grants, and by luck of the draw, we took the lead in this regional grant,” said Dolan. “It’s Raleigh, Fayette, Mercer, Monroe, Summers, Greenbrier, McDowell, and Wyoming counties. It’s $2.5 million for two years, so it’s a lot of money. $1.5 million is for year one, and $1 million is for year two. The half million is dedicated for infrastructure that [the state] wants us to spend in the first year.”
One much-needed infrastructure upgrade will be an overhaul of the health department’s phone system, which currently only has two lines. “When it’s busy, it’s busy,” said Butler.
“They [the state] also wanted us to form a regional COVID team, so they wanted a mixture of epidemiologists- which can be nurses, and nurses, sanitarians, and office assistants. So we reached out to each county to see what their need was,” Dolan explained. “Mercer county opted out of any money whatsoever, any staff, anything. They wanted out. McDowell County only wanted infrastructure money. The other counties did take some staff and some funding.”
The Greenbrier County Health Department ended up with a nurse, an epidemiologist, an office assistant, and a sanitarian position all being funded through ELC money. “We got a bulk of the money because we are taking more staff,” said Dolan. “They base the money on who was taking what staff. We have to start writing job descriptions for those positions and start trying to get those filled.”
With the upcoming staff expansion, the health department will have the ability to dispatch a regional response team, and will be able to assist other counties in our region as needed. The unit may be out of the office for a week or two at a time, depending on the need.
“That will be a new territory for us,” said Butler. “We are also hopeful that out of this grant we can get another mobile unit, which will be pushed into year two, but that is a long-term hope with this.”
The department hopes to secure another truck to pull their mobile response units with, which will help with regional coverage should the need arise.
Butler said, “The money that we had allocated to Mercer County, when it got pushed back because they didn’t want it, everyone else had already set their budget. So what we did is we incorporated their money into our budget, but we are using it to improve infrastructure for the entire region.” The board specified that they are hoping to get everyone a rapid-test analyzer, along with protective suits and other PPE for workers. The test analyzers can be used for COVID testing, but also other illnesses such as flu and strep.
As far as local COVID numbers, Woody reported that as of Wednesday there were only four active cases in Greenbrier County, and “all of our outbreaks appear to be closed.”
Morrison states that as far as more community testing goes, “the CARES Act is not paying for just screening. That’s a common misconception; they are not paying for just screening. You have to have symptoms or have been exposed to someone that’s a known case. … Inevitably, there’s going to be lots of bills pushed back onto patients.” She added that they are actively exploring and reaching out to politicians to look for more funding. “Now, more than ever, it’s a clear picture that with all the funding that’s been cut over the years for public health, yes we are getting this ELC grant, but we need more funding.”
“A couple of years ago when they cut [our funding] by 25 percent, that’s catching up now,” added Butler. “And we were already struggling then.”
“We are very fortunate to have the staff that we do have, we are a small staff and we struggle, but there are some health departments that just have two people in the building,” said Butler. “We’ve added services and found other ways to bring revenue in, where other health departments have not. At least we have our eleven, plus Dr. Morrison. We have a phenomenal staff, we are very blessed.”
The next Board of Health meeting is tentatively set for Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 10 a.m.