COOS COUNTY — In response to the novel coronavirus, Coos Health and Wellness has shifted and modified a number of its day-to-day operations as the department turns its focus toward the county’s readiness plan for COVID-19.
A majority of the programs offered at CHW have been affected by the department’s COVID-19 preparedness efforts as numerous health officials have been shifted to join its coronavirus response teams and taskforces.
Florence Pourtal-Stevens, the public health director for CHW, explained to reporters at a virtual press briefing Wednesday, April 1 that in order to properly prepare for the coronavirus as well as to keep up with its constantly changing updates the department created an incident command system.
The system, she said, is made up of multiple teams and new positions, some of which include an epidemiology team, a public information and education team as well as numerous taskforces to protect the community’s most vulnerable populations.
According to Pourtal-Stevens, the COVID-19 response teams not only work closely with one another, but also with the area’s local healthcare providers, cities, businesses, first responders, schools and other community groups.
“In order for us to make that response happen we have to re-shift completely the way the public health team operates,” said Pourtal-Stevens. “So, pretty much on a routine outside of COVID-19 basis we run about 20 to 23 programs, but at this point because I have to re-shift those programs, and those folks working in those programs, I have shift them to the COVID-19 response.”
Some of the programs affected by the shift includes the department’s home visiting programs in which public health nurses and certified parent educators would visit families at home to provide healthcare services to young children and children with special needs. According to Pourtal-Stevens, the teams working under the home visitation programs have completely been shifted into the department’s COVID-19 response.
Other services such as the Women, Infants & Children program has also been impacted as certifiers have been required to work from home under the governor’s orders to practice social distancing.
The teams have limited as much in-person interactions as possible and have taken to electronical and digital communicative efforts to still provide WIC services to families in Coos County, said Pourtal-Stevens.
At a virtual press briefing Friday, Pourtal-Stevens also went into detail about the department’s immunizations and reproductive health clinical services which are too feeling the impacts of both the state’s restrictive orders to postpone or cancel all non-essential services and the shift of personnel.
For example, its reproductive clinic, which has found ways to limit its face-to-face interactions, but still provide access, has given patients the option to receive their refill of birth-control supplies via mail.
The clinics have also consolidated their appointments into one day instead of throughout the week for certain services.
It’s important to note that the clinics are still providing urgent, emergency services to the community, but situations are being evaluated on a case-by-case basis again to follow the regulations outlined in the governor’s order, added Pourtal-Stevens.
The department has also shifted its operations for its environmental health programs mainly those surrounding inspections as a number of businesses have been ordered to shut down. The inspections have occurred mainly via telephone instead of in person.
Coos Health and Wellness spokesman Eric Gleason on Friday also added the department’s behavioral health services has too shifted into telehealth methods. The crisis lines are still operational and cases are being followed up with face-to-face appointments should the situation require it.
“Our crisis lines and crisis teams are available because this situation is one that would increase anxiety and possible underlying mental health conditions for those that may be current or not clients that need help in a crisis situation,” said Gleason. “So we still have those available.”
As services have either been reduced, closed or shifted its method of delivery, a number of those programs have also had their funding affected.
According to Pourtal-Steven, the home visitation programs, which are fee based, which have been temporarily stopped is going to cost the department loss in revenue estimated to about $200,000 over a 3 month period.
Funding for CHW, which it receives primarily through a number of state and federal grants, has also been affected by the shifts of operations and the COVID-19 response as the costs associated to run the response system has been high.
The public health department like many others is facing a number of challenges as funding has become limited and restricted. Pourtal-Stevens mentioned Friday that about six weeks ago the state unblocked a $5 million funding plan for public health systems around the state.
Coos County received about $75,000. The fund to offset some of the associated costs with the COVID-19 response and the shifting of its operations is at this time not enough, said Pourtal-Stevens.
For people interested in learning more about the programs offered at CHW and of the changes to those programs, visit its website at cooshealthandwellness.org.