Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part story on Greene County Public Health’s annual report.
XENIA — According to Greene County Public Health’s 2020 Annual Report, officials started monitoring COVID-19 as soon as the pandemic became known to the world.
Staff members knew it was only a matter of time before the pandemic would make its way into the United States. And as the first cases were being identified in the U.S., GCPH started working on its isolation and quarantine plans. Staff members wanted to try to minimize the spread in this country. As cases grew, GCPH added many community partners to assist in the organization’s planning efforts.
While still continuing to deal with the ongoing pandemic, GCPH had to modify its plans for 2021.
“We started using the statewide registration system for appointments and that is helping us get more people through vaccination clinics,” Greene County Health Commissioner Melissa Howell said. “Vaccine receipt, staging, storage, and distribution is going well. We will complete any outstanding goals in our existing strategic plan (2019-2021). We will write the next strategic plan that will cover 2022-2024. The CHIP (Community Health Improvement Planning) identified obesity, substance use, and having access to health care services as priorities for all agencies and organizations to prioritize in Greene County to improve health status of our residents.”
One of the changes Howell highlighted is that GCPH will train employees on any new communicable disease reporting system that ends up being developed by the State of Ohio.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we knew there would be challenges due to the neglected IT infrastructure that exists in public health,” she said. “The systems are outdated and not integrated with other data sets in healthcare. For years, there has not been any investment into the data systems, integration, or public health workforce. Often, data goes into a data system but it isn’t easily extracted to create awareness about an outbreak. These are known long-standing issues that existed prior to the pandemic. We hope to inform the development of any new system for disease reporting.”
Howell said GCPH continued to operate throughout the pandemic. Its emergency operations center operated virtually and initially, members met bi-weekly and communicated updates through the EMA.
“Pandemics can decimate a workforce,” Howell said. “We are grateful for the courageous public health workers who continued to work throughout the pandemic. COVID-19 impacted our operations when employees and members of the Board of Health became ill or were quarantined. Public health workers and board members come from multiple disciplines. Our team includes physicians, nurses, social workers, environmental workers. nutritionists, health educators, university professors, business owners, communications, and epidemiologists. We consult with infectious disease doctors and legal experts. The team has a lot of experience and they proved they were agile enough to keep up with the rapid changes occurring in 2020.”
GCPH relied on partnerships to help navigate the pandemic.
“We complete after action reports for any response we have and then we update plans and policies. That process is just getting underway for COVID-19,” Howell said. “When our local resources were challenged for disease investigation, contact tracing, and vaccine demand, we were fortunate to have partnerships in place with other agencies or through the state to get through the challenge.”
And as GCPH continues to proceed through the ongoing pandemic, the organization is prepared for what may come next.
“We stay in a continual posture of readiness for any health emergency whether it’s a pandemic or tornado,” Howell said. “What’s exciting is that the vaccination rollout is going well, we have a new mobile-friendly web design, our schools have 100 percent tobacco-free policies in place, and we have new technology so that homeowners, realtors, and contractors can have a visual image of their septic systems when they are installed.”
Reach Darryl McGee at 937-502-4534