Several Steuben County entities helping Public Health during emergency
BATH | Steuben County Public Health Director Darlene Smith said her staff is tired, but holding up well during the response to the COVID-19 virus -- with help from other county workers, leaders and volunteers.
“It’s a monumental task we’re charged with doing in this unprecedented time,” Smith told The Leader.
It’s one they don’t have to take on alone.
“All the other departments have been extremely supportive,” she added.
One of the most important tasks Public Health has is working with those who are quarantined.
“Those who test positive and are in mandatory isolation, we are charged with checking on them daily,” Smith said.
The checks are to check on the health and safety of those in isolation, see if they have a fever, as well as to ensure they are staying at home as required.
Until recently, that work was all being done by nurses in Smith’s department.
But “the number has grown significantly very quickly,” she said.
Steuben Sheriff’s Deputies
Some help has arrived now, with deputies under Sheriff Jim Allard taking on many of those home visits.
Sheriff Allard said while this is a new and unique situation, it’s still well within the duties of his office and the oaths of the deputies, who put themselves potentially in harm’s way every day even before this health emergency.
“In any crisis, we’re here to meet the public safety needs of the citizens of Steuben County,” Allard told The Leader.
He noted that deputies, like other first responders, are already trained to deal with potential infectious diseases.
And his department has an advantage -- most deputies are now certified EMTs.
The deputies have supplies of personal protective equipment -- including masks, gloves and other necessary items -- and are trained in their proper use, as well as to recognize disease symptoms, Allard said.
He said he’s advising deputies who take on those duties to change out of uniform outside their home and immediately shower, to avoid bringing potential infection back to their families.
Medical Reserve Corps
The Public Health office also has the assistance of a group of volunteers that have been important to the response.
“We called up the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) a week to 10 days ago,” Smith said.
The MRC exists throughout the country -- the Steuben County branch operates through the Public Health office.
It includes medical professionals and others with relevant training, many of them retired.
Smith said MRC volunteers have helped with some of the home visits in the past, as well as pre-screening, or “triaging,” phone calls to the department.
They also have taken on the important task of making daily contact by phone with those who haven’t tested positive for the virus but may have been exposed, and are in “precautionary quarantine.”
During a meeting Wednesday of the county Legislature’s Human Services, Health and Education Committee, officials accepted a grant of about $112,000 from the state Department of Health to assist with the county’s response to COVID-19.
Smith said the funds will help cover overtime costs being incurred by her staff, as well as helping to pay for needed medical equipment.
What you can do
She stressed that the most important thing residents can do to help health workers right now is to follow the precautions Public Health has been repeating for weeks:
- Stay home as much as possible
- Avoid close contact with others -- maintain a 6-foot distance in public places
- Wash your hands well and often, for at least 20 seconds
- If you think you might have symptoms, call your health provider before going to an office or emergency room where you might expose others
County Manager Jack Wheeler said it’s also important to continue to think about community despite the requirements of social distancing.
He said to check on neighbors, especially older people at higher risk for severe symptoms, to see if they are safe and well and if they might need something that you can help with.
But do so at a distance or by phone, to protect both yourself and your neighbor.
Smith added one more recommendation.
“If [people] have friends or family that maybe aren’t taking this as seriously as they should, it would help if [residents] try to educate those people,” she said.