Thursday, November 19th, 2020
Health district workers overwhelmed
By Leslie Gartrell
At Wednesday's meeting, Mercer County health board members discuss how to maximi. . .
CELINA - Health district staff are struggling to manage their time effectively as the ever-increasing workload caused by COVID-19 continues to pile on top of additional duties employees need to complete.
Health board members at Wednesday's meeting discussed how staff could use their time most effectively. Director of nursing Julia Shaffer said workers are bogged down primarily by phone calls and requests from patients to return to work.
She said a lot of time is spent calling people who test positive for COVID-19 who do not answer the phone and calling incorrect numbers. Staff also spend a lot of time processing requests for paperwork clearing someone to go back to work.
"We need to use our time effectively, and a lot of our time is being spent calling people and they're not answering, calling people we have the wrong number (for), answering the phones of people who want their quarantine letters and isolation letters," she said.
Health administrator Jason Menchhofer had mentioned the district along with all other Ohio local health departments will receive $200,000 in state funding, and board member Julie Fleck asked if some of the funding could be used to hire someone to help process return-to-work requests or make phone calls to ease the burden on staff.
"It's to the point that it doesn't even matter, I don't think, how many people we even get in here," Shaffer responded. "I could have the nurses go into a room by themselves and they could call and call and call, but we're constantly getting interrupted."
When interviewing people who test positive for COVID-19, staff ask when symptoms first appeared or the onset date. People are then asked to isolate for 10 days after the onset date. Learning the patient's onset date is a time-consuming task on top of other duties, she said.
However, Shaffer said some people have trouble identifying when their symptoms first began or may be asymptomatic. Others will lie about their onset date to return to work sooner.
Shaffer said The Ohio State University has transitioned from asking patients to isolate for 10 days from their symptom onset date to isolate from the date they were tested to simplify the process. She said something similar to OSU's guidance would make the situation easier for staff.
Board member Lisa Niekamp-Urwin suggested setting up an automated voicemail box for people requesting return-to-work paperwork to ease that workload.
In other business, environmental health director Michelle Kimmel expressed some discomfort with event organizers who claim to collaborate with the health district when they haven't.
The environmental health department must interpret orders from the governor and the state department of health, she said. Event organizers will usually call the health district to get the go-ahead for an event.
Kimmel said staff will explain what the current health orders are and advise organizers not to include an event that violates any existing health orders.
However, Kimmel said organizers will claim their event is "health-district approved" or that they worked with the district only to go against the guidance and violate health orders.
"I want the general public to take everything with a grain of salt," she said. "Any time they see something advertised that says 'health-department approved' or 'we got the OK from the health department,' don't necessarily take that as 100%. If there's ever any doubt, call us and check."
Board members also,
• renewed a contact with medical director Dr. Johnathan Winner not to exceed $5,200 a year from Nov. 1, 2020-Oct. 31, 2021.
• met in executive session for an hour to discuss employee time and compensation.
After exiting the session, board members approved compensating salaried staff at a straight overtime hourly rate, retroactive to March 1 through the end of this year, and to repeal any inconsistent legislation.