Board of Health approves bonus for health department employees | News

HUNTINGTON — Since March, health professionals at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department have been working full-steam to respond to the pandemic, and the Board of Health on Wednesday voted to reward their hard work with a bonus.

Following an executive session, the board unanimously approved a resolution to provide a $1,500 raise to all health department employees. The board also voted on a resolution asking the executive team to work on a plan for the health department to pay out unused vacation days at the end of the year.

“It has been a hard year so far for our health department employees, and we want to acknowledge that,” said Fred Kitchen, a board member.

Spread of the virus remains high in the county, but the county’s response — from testing to following guidelines — is keeping the situation under control compared to other counties.

Dr. Michael Kilkenny, medical director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, told the county Board of Health that robust testing done mainly by the health department’s community partners — like the hospitals — has kept Cabell County in the green on the state’s school map.

Kilkenny said Cabell County is doing more testing compared to other counties, especially those of the same size.

“We get tremendous cooperation and response,” he said.

Kilkenny said Cabell County has not had some of the same issues other counties have had.

“We have not had issues with bars, and we have done surveillance to determine that,” he said. “We have not had a predominance of college students getting the virus. It doesn’t make us better or worse than other counties, but we do get a better response when we make a recommendation.”

Still, spread remains high in the county and the health department is working hard to complete case investigations and contact tracing. They are doing this while understaffed because of retirements and difficulties hiring during a pandemic.

Kathleen Napier, nursing director, said they have had some people flat-out refuse to quarantine, but overall people are compliant.

“Our people are better at listening,” Kilkenny said. “That’s credit to the people of Cabell County.”

Rodney Melton, director of environmental services, said inspectors continue to respond to complaints from the community, mainly in restaurants and stores. Melton said at the beginning of the pandemic, more complaints came from staff but now they mainly come from the community.

He said most of the complaints aren’t big issues — maybe one employee is not following the rules or the business just needing more education. They do still face those who refuse the face mask guidelines, though.

“We go in with a blank slate and see what we can do to make the situation better for everybody,” Melton said.

The health department is also preparing for a vaccine, which Kilkenny said they are awaiting as anxiously as anybody. The Medical Reserve Corps will meet in October for a retreat and will train on its vaccine distribution response. He said there are experienced members on the team who worked to distribute vaccines during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, so they will be prepared once the vaccine arrives.

In other business, board chairman Dr. Kevin Yingling said he would have voted yes on the medical cannabis operations during an August special meeting, but because of how he historically has been a board chairman and because it would not change the outcome, he did not share his vote.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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