RACINE — Grants totaling $933,257 could go a long way, but will be particularly helpful to the Racine Health Department during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city’s Finance and Personnel Committee on Monday discussed a number of grants the city has been awarded by the state to address COVID-19 and how those will be applied, including increasing testing capacity and hiring temporary contact tracers. The committee recommended that the City Council approve acceptance of the grants at its next meeting. The state received the funds through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Safety Act, which the state then distributed to health departments based on the population of their jurisdiction.
The Health Department has proposed that the two largest grants, which include a $688,860 contact tracing grant and a $127,800 testing coordinator grant, should go toward hiring 10 contact tracers through Maxim HealthCare Services, a medical staffing service.
Contact tracing is the practice of reaching out to individuals who have tested positive for a disease, such as COVID-19, and then asking them who they interacted with before receiving their diagnosis. Then the contact tracer will contact those individuals to let them know that they may have been exposed to the disease.
Up until now, Health Department staff has been conducting contact tracing with its own staff. In June, Health Department Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox said hourly and salaried employees had been working overtime seven days a week since the pandemic reached Racine.
Bobbi Fergus, with the Health Department, said the grant and contract with Maxim would allow Health Department staff to focus on the other work that needs to get done, particularly in preparation of cold and influenza season.
Fergus said one of the reasons she recommended Maxim is because they ensure all contact tracers are credentialed and insured. Those contact tracers would not be city employees though they will be working out the Health Department's office as temporary contractors hired by Maxim. The contract with Maxim, which will also be up for a vote at the City Council meeting, runs through the end of the year.
Alderman John Tate II of the 3rd District asked what credentials would qualify for a contact tracing job and if students coming out of Gateway Technical College’s nursing program could apply. Fergus said that yes, they would qualify and that Maxim had said it would be hiring contact tracers locally.
Another grant, one for $24,200, would go towards improving testing capacity for COVID-19 within the city. For this, Fergus said the city would partner with Ascension All Saints to increase testing at its 1244 Wisconsin Ave. location.
Alderman Jason Meekma of the 14th District asked about partnership between the city, Weill Cornell Medical College and the Medical College of Wisconsin in researching a new testing method and whether any of those funds could be applied. Fergus said that since that was a research project, it did not apply.
Another $62,397 was dispersed to help with the public health response to the crisis and continuing emergency preparedness. Fergus said that those funds would be put towards filling some of the department’s vacant positions. Pre-pandemic, the department had a few open positions, and when the pandemic hit, the department hired temporary workers to fill those positions during the crisis. This grant would cover the cost of those temporary workers.
The remaining $30,000 grant would go toward evaluating and updating the city’s pandemic plan to make sure it is fully applicable for COVID-19 and to develop a plan for mass vaccination clinics for when a vaccine becomes available.
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