County’s COVID expenses exceed new allotted amount
The Harrison County Health Dept. says it has more COVID-19-related expenses and already needs more money than the $250,000 in the county’s pandemic emergency fund.
Last week, four Harrison County councilors approved dropping the emergency COVID-19 fund from $1 million to $250,000, stating county offices could still use traditional channels to request funds for addressing the outbreak, which would create more accountability when money was spent.
During Monday night’s Harrison County Board of Commissioners meeting, Carrie Herthel, the county’s health department administrator, said COVID-19 expenses are expected to total more than $321,000.
“We have spent $160,495.35,” Herthel said. “There is another $4,700 in expenses that will be paid on the next bill cycle, too.”
There are also several more anticipated expenses coming, totaling $156,400, which Herthel said does not include the cost of administering a coronavirus vaccine if one becomes available before the end of the year. These anticipated costs include operating a COVID-19 testing site through the end of the year, estimated overtime pay to hourly health department workers, rapid testing kits, which would test for the coronavirus and the flu, and the cost of other contractual services.
“I would like to ask the commissioners if I can have approval to approach the council to expand that funding,” Herthel said.
The health department’s leading officer said that there are still times her department needs to make quick decisions depending on what kind or number of resources that are available.
The commissioners unanimously approved Herthel to request an additional $150,000.
Testing is still going at capacity, with the OptumServe site at Ramsey testing 130 people daily, Herthel said. She added the state wants the county to develop a more sustainable testing site and is providing a testing site grant, which would cover $100,000.
According to Herthel, the grant would not cover approximately $28,000 in expenses.
For the county to be eligible, testing has to take place five days a week.
“Two of those days have to be after 5 p.m.,” Herthel said.
Testing has to also be available to anyone who wants to get tested. The state will provide personal protective and other equipment to help the county operate the site, but the health department needs two full-time contractual employees to work at the site.
When the county opens this site, testing will take place six days a week.
Harrison County Hospital will partner with the health department to provide testing and will provide the needed staff during day-time hours with the health department covering evening and Saturday hours.
“The board of health has approved the hiring of an R.N. and an environmental health services individual,” Herthel said.
If the two employees worked full time for the entire year, their combined salary and compensation would total $84,436.
Some of these expenses should be reimbursed through the federal CARES Act. The rapid testing kits are expected to be available in October.
The health department is also pursuing an information technology grant to help it address the pandemic.
In other county business, former Sheriff Rod Seelye, who started an inmate-work business after leaving office 14 months ago, received approval from the commissioners to run the program for Harrison County inmates. Seelye said his program has already received support from the sheriff, prosecutor and judge.
Sheriff Staffing Services employs inmates who can earn a paycheck while behind bars. Seelye said the program has run successfully in Hardin County, Ky.
Seelye said inmates are tested for COVID-19 and receive drug tests, which are covered by the staffing agency. To date, his inmate workers have only had four sick days among the thousands of hours worked.
“They know if they mess it up, they know there is other people in line waiting to take their job,” Seelye said.
He said some inmates have left jail with $20,000 to their name, allowing them to make a down payment on a home.
The program will start with Harrison County inmates in the next couple of months. Eligible offenders for the program are typically in jail with some sort of drug charge and are minimum-security inmates.
The commissioners’ next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 8:30 a.m. (moved from the first Monday of the month due to Labor Day).