West Michigan County cuts COVID services to ‘low’ after leaders reject funding proposal

ALLEGAN, MI — The Allegan County Health Department is reducing its COVID-19 response to “low” after elected leaders were shot, supplementing the department’s efforts with $1.5 million in federal dollars.

Allegan County Health Department officials, in their Friday, Feb. 11 newsletter, announced that beginning in mid-February, the department will halt COVID-19 testing, most vaccination clinics, the outreach to schools and businesses and tracking local case data down to postcode and school district. The department will also reduce its contact tracing and case investigation efforts.

But money potentially coming from the state could reverse that trend, according to Allegan County Board Chairman Jim Storey.

The downside of services stems from a 4-3 split vote by the Allegan County Board of Commissioners on January 13 on a funding shortfall CDHA faced to provide a recommended “moderate” ongoing level of COVID-19 and response services through the end of the year.

With known funding available of $643,935 and an estimated cost through year end of approximately $2.13 million, the county health department was facing a $1.42 million gap. dollars needed to provide the ongoing level of testing, immunization, outreach and data collection services.

If the gap was not funded and the level of services was not decreased, the known funding would be exhausted by April.

Allegan County Administrator Robert Sarro told commissioners that if CDHA reduces its COVID-19 services to the minimum required by the state, the funds could last six to eight months longer.

By a vote of 4 to 3, elected county leaders refused to make up the $1.42 million shortfall with US federal bailout dollars.

Storey, who voted against filling the funding gap with ARPA dollars, said at the time of the vote he was aware of money that may be coming in from the state to help fund COVID services. -19 at the county level.

Because known health department funding hadn’t run out, he said the best course of action was to wait and see if the state would step in.

This decision, he said, turned out to be the right one.

On Feb. 8, the State House passed a $1.2 billion health and COVID spending bill. Under the bill, approximately $54.1 million would go to local health departments for COVID-19 vaccine marketing, education, outreach and engagement.

According to the Michigan Association of Counties, an additional $29.7 million would go to local COVID-19 mitigation efforts, such as contract research and testing, carried out by local health departments and schools. The state Senate must now accept the bill before it heads to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office.

CDHA originally proposed in April 2021 that the county allocate $9 million in U.S. federal bailout law dollars to fund three years of COVID-19 mitigation services, Storey said. At the time, the council postponed the action.

“Throughout this period, from April 2021 until January 13 inclusive of this year, we were saying, ‘We’re not running out of money yet. Let’s see if the state helps us,” he said. “And we certainly didn’t want to set the precedent of every cause coming to us and saying, ‘Give us some of the money from the American Rescue Plan Act. “”

One of the council’s priorities with federal ARPA money is to expand its broadband infrastructure to reach about 34% of residents who don’t have access, Storey said. This technology gap, he said, has been highlighted by the pandemic.

“So the bottom line: that was the problem,” he said. “It was not COVID insensitivity. It was: ‘Where are we going to get this money?’ »

Storey said he’s not sure if the ACHD has begun to reduce its COVID services to the minimum required by the state, which must include case investigation and health education, according to the ACHD.

“As they said, they are in transition,” he said. “I don’t know how fast they will reduce. I think if I was the public health administrator and I knew that money was in the works, I would brake a little until you absolutely had to.

In their report to commissioners on the funding shortfall, CDHA officials raised concerns about how unstable funding could impact its services as well as staffing levels, including the rehiring positions.

“Put simply, the staff will not stay in place until April to see if their position will continue beyond that point. Once services are curtailed, it would take significant start-up time to hire new staff and start services again,” CDHA officials said.

“Furthermore, this will prevent service disruption/delays for other public health services, as the loss of contract employees requires filling staffing gaps with ACHD and may result in the loss of internal staff due to uncertainty and burnout.”

Allegan County Chief Health Officer Angelique Joynes and Allegan County Administrator Robert Sarro did not respond to MLive’s request for comment.

Like the rest of the state following the spike in Omicron variant cases, new daily COVID-19 cases have continued to decline in Allegan County since peaking in mid-January.

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