Catching Up From COVID: Paperwork, Paused Programs Awaiting Health Departments
WHEELING — Posting the day’s reported deaths and new cases of COVID-19 became routine at local health departments.
Happily, though, that task has become increasingly infrequent.
With contact tracing, testing, and other daily tasks associated with the pandemic no longer taking up a majority of employees’ time, departments now have the chance to catch up on things that have fallen behind or been put on pause, chief among them paperwork.
However, this also includes programs that had been on hold while employees were otherwise occupied, sometimes reassigned to contact tracing and testing from their usual duties.
Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble said his department has been catching up “tremendously” with its environmental inspection duties. Two of the three environmental inspectors had been frequently pulled off for COVID testing, while the third was permanently kept doing inspections.
“Those three inspectors are now back in the field, doing inspections, permits, and complaint-based inspections,” Gamble said Thursday. “Environmentally, we’re catching back up, and that’s good, because environmentally, some of the things they do are now catching up. People are ramping up food services, other things that we permit are coming due, pools are opening up so we need to get those tested.
“Having those three folks back, and now that we have an increase of activities opening up, it’s good. We’re busy,” he added.
On the clinical level, Gamble said, catchup work is somewhat slower going, but progress is definitely being made. Clinical services for vaccine-preventable diseases — particularly back-to-school vaccines — are an important part of the upcoming schedule.
“Anything vaccine is the biggest part, and that’s for a lot of county health departments across the state, including ours,” he said. “The biggest, we’ll be getting into very shortly, is back-to-school vaccinations for children. In this county, we have an abundance of medical opportunities, so there isn’t a lot of demand for vaccines here. It’s usually the children who are eligible, or their physicians can’t get them caught up. That’s going to be our biggest concern in the next … couple weeks.”
Gamble said that adults needing to get caught up on vaccines are also becoming a priority, as are those who require vaccines for international travel, which is resuming, slowly but surely. Prior to the pandemic, Gamble said, mission trips to South and Central America were common, as was travel to southeast Asia and Africa.
“Prior to COVID, we had an abundance of people going to Haiti, the Caribbean countries, to do mission work, and so we had a lot of people who needed to get caught up on routine (shots),” he said. “We did have people going overseas for business, and they needed to get caught up. … More routine, people were not caught up on Hepatitis A, or they needed a special vaccine they never got. We’re kind of coming back to doing those.”
At the Marshall County Health Department, administrator Tom Cook said that while several services had not shut down completely, they had needed to get creative in their implementation, conducting clinics over the phone or over Zoom. The department is now resuming in-person appointments.
“Our back-to-school vaccination clinics are back open by appointments only. … Our family planning (clinic) is back open, and our food handler’s class is back in person,” he said. “We’re being a little precautious.”
Gamble said the department was now working to catch up on paperwork, regarding everything from hiring to payroll, which had been put on hold during the crisis.
“The direction was, ‘Do what you need to do,’ which was vaccines and so on,” he said. “I’m now catching up on that abundance of paperwork,which are things like salary increases, hirings done during COVID. It’s not only a summer project, but into the fall, because we’ll need to get back on track with general accounting, grant management, hiring, terminating, retiring.
“It’s a long, ongoing thing to get caught up to where things were very smooth prior to the pandemic, and rightfully so. You didn’t want to be doing those kind of details when you really needed to be testing and quarantining, interacting with patients, and vaccinating,” he added. “I was more than happy to put them on hold, but now they have to be caught up. The state wants them caught up, I need them caught up.”
Cook added that Marshall County also had a big backlog of paperwork, including applications for grants for COVID testing.
Gamble was happy to point out that the Women, Infant, and Children services, which had been suspended or limited during the pandemic, were now available once again.
“These are big programs across the country for pregnant women, nursing, or children up to the age of 5, that qualify for certain services through this program. A lot of that was suspended, as far as inpatient visits, because of COVID. Now, they’re coming back, so individuals can come back to the office for weighs, measurements, as well as the routine things we were doing over the phone,” he said. “Regular patient visits, our clinical services are coming back slowly, but we still have a strong emphasis on vaccinations.”