Local health departments look back at pandemic response

PITTSBURG, Kan./NEOSHO, Mo. – More than a year into the pandemic local health departments are looking back at how their responses stacked up. We spoke with the Crawford County and Newton County Health Departments on what they’ve learned and how they feel they did.

Over the past 15 months, local health departments have been put front and center in the public’s eye due to the pandemic. We checked in with two of the many local health departments in our area to see how they feel about their response to the pandemic so far.

In Crawford County, Teddi Van Kam says for her, the biggest area to improve, was managing staffing. She created teams but feels it could have been better. “And I think I would have created that sooner and rotated people out a little bit sooner, because fatigue is one of your biggest enemies when you’re trying to work through a pandemic.”

In Newton County, Larry Bergner says his biggest obstacle was technology. “When we had the numbers spike rapidly we found that we needed more computer program space, more programs that would help us to file and track and enter the data into the computer systems.”

As time went on, both departments feel they got into the hang of things quickly. Van Kam says “In public health, you train for disasters all the time and it’s just part of being public health, so, we have a preparedness program and we have policies and procedures and we practice them.” Bergner adds “The health care community came together, we shared resources, we shared communication data, and that was a very good thing and it helped us get the resources out to the community much faster than otherwise would have been able to.”

Bergner is hopeful that not only will the communities see the value of the local health department, but those in positions of power will as well. “We certainly hope that they will see that there is a need to increase local budgets so that when we need those upgrades in technology or when we need to quickly provide more personnel to tackle the pandemic or what’s going on in the community, that we would have the funds available to do that.”

Both health departments want to remind residents that they have returned to providing the ‘normal’ services community members expect, like WIC, women’s health, and immunizations.