December 2, 2021

County OKs 2 new health department hires

Cortland County Seal

Cortland County legislators approved the creation and hiring of two new positions for the Health Department, to be funded by federal COVID-19 grants for the first two years.

The full-time positions of public health nurse and epidemiology manager will help take some of the pressure off an already understaffed department, said Legislator Ann Homer (D-Cortland).

“What many of you may not realize, is when COVID started, all of the other responsibilities of the Health Department did not stop,” Homer said.

Testing and follow-ups for other communicable diseases were still necessary, along with the daily tasks and paperwork, on top of the public health crisis that is the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is an investment in our future and ensuring we don’t lose the staff that we have, who are wonderful and qualified,” Homer said. “But folks, they’re tired. They’re on-call seven days a week, 24 hours a day, because of contact tracing.”

The epidemiologist manager position was first discussed nearly 20 years ago, but is now needed more than ever, Homer said.

During the Government Operations Committee meeting on Aug. 13, Legislator Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland) said this summer’s spike in positive coronavirus cases is cause for concern, and an additional public health nurse and en epidemiology manager could allow the Health Department to fight COVID-19.

“It has been apparent to those of us who have been working with staff on the front line, that only having three or four public health nurses during a pandemic has been woefully inadequate,” Bischoff said at the Aug. 13 meeting. She pointed out that throughout the pandemic, nurses had to prioritize COVID-19 patients — often delaying their typical public health responsibilities in order to best monitor Cortland County’s COVID situation.

“So this is to provide relief, and the COVID money is meant to do this, meant to expand the resources within the Public Health Department to create that type of relief — that’s what it was intended to do,” Bischoff said.

The two full-time positions would be funded by COVID Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity grants for the first two years — after two years, the positions will need to be funded by the county. The public health nurse would be paid between $62,500 and $73,250 a year. The epidemiology manager would be paid $59,71 to $72,477 a year.

“It will be no county dollars for two years and we’ll get an opportunity to look at those positions again for funding when we have a budget,” Homer said. She asked her fellow legislators to consider interim Public Health Director Lisa Perfetti and her current staff when voting on the resolution. “Lisa and her staff need these positions. They are not surplus positions. These will impact the lives of Cortland County residents.”

The Legislature voted 15-1 in favor of creating and hiring for the two positions. Legislator Linda Jones (U-Homer) voted in opposition and Legislator Kelly Price (U-Homer) was absent.

In regards to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature voted (16-0) in favor of using billboard advertisements to encourage Cortland County residents to get vaccinated against the virus.

“We’re looking at possibly two billboards, in locations of Polkville and Homer,” said Legislative Chairman Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton). The county could later consider advertising on local transit buses, a banner on Main Street in Cortland, or even bumper stickers. “Any way that we can get
out to our community.”

The billboards would be paid for by the $5,000 in grant funding already allocated to the Area Agency on Aging — money the county must spend, or it will be returned.

“I think this is very important,” Homer said. “Our vaccination rate in this community
is not as high as it needs to be.” The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Cortland County continues to rise, and vaccination efforts are imperative for people of all ages. “Yes, this is geared toward seniors, but every person that sees the billboards are going to be reminded.”