Combating COVID, helping our community take center stage in 2021
By County Manager, Chris Coudriet
Around this time one year ago, we reflected on all that had occurred in 2020 and knew we were finishing a year unlike anything any of us had ever experienced. A year later, 2021 proved to be just as difficult.
As we look ahead to 2022, it is important that we take a moment, pause and reflect on all that we have been through, but more importantly, all that has been accomplished in New Hanover County over the last 12 months.
So much of the last two years has focused on battling the impact of COVID-19 in our community. While the virus has not gone away, it is important to realize the progress that we have made in keeping ourselves and our neighbors safe while addressing the hardships associated with the pandemic.
In January 2021, Health and Human Services staff began rolling out COVID-19 vaccines to our community and haven’t stopped since. Clinics continue to operate at Health and Human Services and Independence Mall. There were even in-home vaccination efforts that allowed us to reach homebound residents who could not get to a clinic. Vaccine clinics were held in partnership with local churches and organizations to directly reach into communities and eliminate barriers to access. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our Health and Human Services staff, along with other area health care providers, more than 60 percent of our county residents have been fully vaccinated as of December 2021. We are so grateful to everyone who has helped make this possible and hope those of you who have not been vaccinated yet will take advantage of these opportunities to keep yourself and your neighbors safe. With everyone working together, we know the end of this pandemic is within reach.
Our COVID response also featured help for individuals and businesses through the $45.5 million in funding provided by the American Rescue Plan Act. The funding was approved by the federal government on March 11 and the dedicated staff at New Hanover County worked with community leaders and service providers to develop plans, which were initially approved by the Board of Commissioners on April 5, that would provide meaningful assistance to our residents. We wanted to make sure this money got into the hands of those who needed it most as quickly as possible, and I believe we have, and continue to, deliver on that expectation. This has included free broadband internet access for qualifying families, paid job training opportunities, grants for businesses and nonprofits, rent, mortgage and water bill assistance, mental health supports, affordable housing infrastructure, and so much more.
One of the biggest changes in our region this year came when our county officially finalized an agreement to sell New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health. That sale created a $1.25 billion Community Endowment and $350 million in escrows for county revenue stabilization and mental health funding. While this is something new for our community, the research and discussion that took place in coming to the decision to sell validated this opportunity to impact positive change in New Hanover County, not just now, but for future generations. This partnership has and will continue making for a better community and better healthcare for our citizens.
The Office of Diversity and Equity was especially busy in its first full year of service to our community. They were an integral part of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, making sure the county’s response was equitable for all residents. The inaugural New Hanover County Equity Awards recognized 10 community members for their efforts to expand diversity and build a more inclusive community. The partnership between the county, City of Wilmington, and community partners for the remembrance of the 123rd anniversary of the 1898 Massacre garnered national headlines as we continue to heal forward.
New Hanover County Fire Rescue earned an improved Class 2 fire response rating, which means homeowners in the unincorporated parts of the county will benefit from lower home insurance rates and shows the county’s commitment to provide the best service possible for our residents. We adopted a five-year Master Aging Plan that will help shape the resources and services for older adults in our community. Construction was completed on the Division of Juvenile Justice building. The county received 10 Achievement Awards from National Association of Counties for innovative practices and programs, including the county’s first Best in Category Award for a process improvement in the mail room at Health and Human Services.
To say we have been busy is an understatement.
Obviously, these are only small pieces of what has been going on in the county over the last year and I am so proud of all the efforts highlighted above and so many more that I have not mentioned. We accomplished a lot and have plenty to celebrate.
That said, the work is never done.
Construction on the Healing Place and the new Government Center Complex will be complete in 2022. Our work with New Hanover County Schools, community wraparound service providers and others to address school safety and community violence is ongoing. New Hanover County’s Pandemic Operations Team will be finalized in the coming months, giving us a group capable of being both responsive to the needs of our community’s health as we look to end the COVID pandemic, but also working to be preventative for future health crises.
The last year was certainly a challenge and we know the new year will have its own obstacles to overcome. We look forward to taking them on, continuing to enhance the services we provide our community and being the model of good governance you expect. Happy Holidays and see you in 2022.