By Conrad Dudderar
With cramped quarters at its Yukon office, the Canadian County Health Department wants to find land to build a larger building – and recently approached county commissioners about using federal stimulus funds.
CCHD regional director Jan Fox this week shared needs that could be addressed through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Canadian County is due to receive a $28 million allocation through this economic relief package.
“We do have needs, and we’ve thought through what our needs are,” Fox told county commissioners at their Aug. 2nd meeting. “We want to build a public health preparedness facility in conjunction with a new health department building in Yukon.
“We would like this to house our mobile units, serve as a drive-thru location, have office space for community engagement, and a warehouse to store equipment during events.”
One of the categories that Canadian County may expend ARPA funds is to respond to public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and to be prepared for any future pandemics.
Fox and other members of the health department’s leadership team attended the weekly county commissioners’ meeting to discuss their COVID-19 pandemic response.
Canadian County owns buildings in Yukon (1023 E Vandament) and El Reno (100 S Rock Island) that house the health department.
There is no cost estimate to buy land and construct a new office in Yukon, but the CCHD has ad valorem millage “carryover funds” that could be used.
“We’ve been looking at this as a need, and we have been putting aside those dollars in anticipation,” Fox explained. “Knowing that these ‘Rescue Plan’ dollars are available, we thought we could combine and get something that meets our needs well into the future.”
The ARPA of 2021 is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden in March. Some $130 billion has been allocated to counties across the U.S.
The act is designed to speed up the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing recession.
“We realize there are American Rescue Plan dollars that are going to be available, so we have looked at what we feel might benefit us in the future,” Fox advised county commissioners. “This won’t be our only pandemic. I hope that we don’t ever have another one to this scale.
“We deal every day with infectious diseases. … And the Delta variant is beginning to cause a lot of problems for people across the state. Over the weekend, we reached record numbers of cases again.”
SHARING THE CHALLENGES
Primary challenges that Canadian County’s health department officials faced during the COVID-19 pandemic were:
- Technology issues with residents registering online for vaccine appointments.
- Not having enough outside places to test and vaccinate large groups of people efficiently.
- Finding a place for dozens of extra personnel, such as National Guard members and contact tracers, who came to help.
- No drive-through testing/vaccination ability at the CCHD’s Yukon and El Reno offices.
- Not enough adequate space to store personal protective equipment (PPE).
- No covered space to store and clean mobile units.
CCHD officials thanked Redlands Community College, the Yukon Community Center, churches and other sites that opened their buildings for mass vaccination events.
“However, the challenges were pretty great,” Fox shared. “When we began vaccinating, it was very, very cold. We had to have elderly and others outside in the elements because we were really mindful of keeping them separated. We did not want to spread COVID as we were trying to vaccinate people.”
Health departments like Canadian County conducted COVID-19 testing last summer in the heat.
“The nurses have to don all of this gear, and it’s very, very hot,” Fox noted. “We bought collars that could cool, and we had fans and everything we could think of to keep our staff cooler. But it’s not enough. It was really hard.”
Besides a new larger building in Yukon, other needs the CCHD leadership team shared with Canadian County Commissioners are:
- Technology infrastructure upgrades such as improved broadband Internet.
- Storm shelters to house critical staff during emergency responses.
- A covered drive and more isolation rooms for patients at CCHD’s El Reno office.
- Decontamination stations for both Yukon and El Reno buildings.
One issue county commissioners and health department officials had previously discussed is the disparity between the CCHD’s Yukon and El Reno locations.
“We’re flip-flopped,” Fox explained. “Our Yukon office is ‘full to the brim’. We have no room to expand.”
With Canadian County’s population growth on the east side, she added the El Reno office is “really too large for our needs.”
Canadian County Commission Chairman Jack Stewart said the “first step” before the county’s ARPA funds are disbursed is to develop a strategic plan to “get everything into the pot that we can think of.”
The county’s health department was the first to make a presentation to the three commissioners.
Noting the CCHD is “technically a state entity”, District 1 County Commissioner Marc Hader encouraged county health leaders to seek help through the State of Oklahoma’s “extremely large” federal stimulus award.
The health department will use state grants to hire more registered nurses and other staff, Fox replied.
“They’re not ‘forever’, but they should get us through the pandemic,” she told commissioners. “Then we’ll make a decision whether to continue (funding) them with our millage dollars.”
On a positive note, CCHD leaders shared Canadian County’s above-average COVID-19 vaccination rates in Oklahoma.
In fact, Canadian County is among the “top 5” for residents 12 years and over who have received at least one dose. About 50% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated against the virus.
Some 87% of Canadian County residents ages 65 and above have gotten at least one dose; more than 77% are fully vaccinated.
“We did a really good job vaccinating the people that needed to be vaccinated,” Fox said.