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County to fill LPN position to be a COVID-19 tracer

FONDA — The Montgomery County Legislature Health and Human Services Committee moved three resolutions to the full board including one to establish a LPN position to help with COVID-19 tracing and tracking guidelines during its teleconference on Tuesday.

“We had an open position for a community health nurse, which has been open for about a year, and we were struggling to find a RN that wanted to work in this county under this capacity,” said Montgomery County Public Health Director Sara Boerenko. “Now with what is happening with COVID-19 we are being asked to look at folks who may have the capacity or some expertise in training in tracing.”

Tracing is one of the seven metrics regions had to meet to go into phase one of reopening. Each region must have 30 contact tracers per 100,000 residents based on infection rate.

According to Centers for Disease Control, contact tracing is part of the process of supporting patients with suspected or confirmed infection. In contact tracing, public health staff work with a patient to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the timeframe while they may have been infectious.

Public health staff then warn these exposed individuals — contacts — of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible. To protect patient privacy, contacts are only informed that they may have been exposed to a patient with the infection. They are not told the identity of the patient who may have exposed them.

“They’ve loosened those regulations and guidelines a little bit as to who we can hire as full time,” Boerenko said.

She said there will be some cost savings, and it is already part of the Department of Health budget moving forward and state aid.

Boerenko said she is only down this one open position compared to other counties in the Mohawk Valley Region that are down one or more positions.

“I think I’m very fortunate I was not asked to furlough or lay off any of my employees because of the pandemic, but I know there is another county who had to lay off three of their staff in the department,” Boerenko said.

She said the department is very “fortunate” since this is a nursing position and they had already budgeted for it.

Hiring someone for the position will also alleviate some of the overtime that will have to be paid to the nurses who have been working seven days a week and lessen some of their workload as well.

“It’s across the board. Health departments just don’t have enough staff at this point,” Boerenko said.

She said the person who gets hired will come in as a COVID-19 tracer and will also have the capacity to learn to trace and oversee and monitor the other illnesses and diseases the health department deals with on a daily basis.

“We’re doing well in the region as far as meeting the numbers, but we have six tracers right now, this will make seven,” said Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort. “They’ve been working around the clock, this is going to give them a little extra help as we go through this.”

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