County takes innovative, forward-thinking approach for pandemic operations
By County Manager, Chris Coudriet
The past 20 months have been grueling for many of us. Among those most impacted in their workload and care for the community has been our Health and Human Services (HHS) team who has run the county’s operations for contact tracing, testing, vaccinations, education, outreach, and so much more.
Their work has been intense and has involved the help of other county departments and staff, but it has been incredibly efficient, well run, and vital for our community.
The volume and scale at which our county team has operated since March of 2020 is phenomenal, but it has taken them away from their regular daily operations and other important priorities (like school nurses pulled to be vaccinators at clinics, health leaders in the role of operations managers, and so many more).
Even with COVID-19 transmission lower right now (which we are grateful for), their workloads are still increased, the help of our National Guard teams and volunteers is dwindling, and regular service and program expectations are even higher now than they were pre-pandemic.
So we are now to a point that we must do more to ensure our staff can do their primary jobs and focus on county services, by developing a division within HHS dedicated to the continued pandemic response and preparation for any novel virus.
This Pandemic Operations Team, which we are hiring for now using American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, is a proactive approach to begin managing in the context of COVID-19 being endemic, and the eventuality of different strains and other novel diseases that are not yet here or known at this time.
They will be responsible for analyzing the epidemiological spread and containment of diseases and managing the operations and outreach plans for the current pandemic and any other public health crisis for New Hanover County. Team members will include an operations manager, planner, epidemiologist, outreach specialist, inventory technician, nurses, contact tracers, and data administrators.
They will operate in an annex building across from the HHS building with a dedicated space for their work, planning, logistics, and vaccine operations. We envision this being the primary location for our vaccination clinic, which will require less staffing and logistics needs than we currently have being spread out among sites, and will also ensure we aren’t interfering with the work of our regular health clinic or HHS operations.
We will be able to ramp this facility up if increased vaccinations or other pandemic-related services are needed, and we will now have dedicated staff to manage it. So as opposed to pulling staff in from HHS and various departments to be site managers, greeters, data entry specialists, nurses, supply agents, and more at the sites – we will have the staff in place already to operate efficiently and well from this location or at outreach events.
I believe this innovative approach of a dedicated pandemic unit of HHS is among the first in the nation for local governments and is crucial given the ongoing needs in our community and the continued globalization and transient nature of our population, where viruses and diseases can spread more rapidly.
We, as a county, will be better positioned to protect the public’s health with a dedicated team of experts focused on pandemic planning and response. It will enhance our services, increase our outreach and education for this and other health threats, and ensure we remain on the cutting edge to ensure the best possible future for our community.
I appreciate all that our county team has done to protect the community throughout COVID-19 and am grateful for the Board of Commissioners’ support and ability to use ARP funds to make this new operations team a reality.
You can view the county’s framework for this and other ARP investments at NHCgov.com/CovidRelief.