Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a day of serving Meigs County residents at the Meigs County Health Department (MCHD) was often busy and filled with many tasks. In the Nursing Department, we spent our time administering immunizations, testing clients for Hepatitis C and HIV, doing lead and/or hemoglobin tests, training residents to use and then issuing Project DAWN (Naloxone) kits, providing pregnancy tests, performing head lice checks, counseling clients about tobacco cessation, monitoring blood pressure for walk-in clients, and offering vision program assistance to adults and children. All these services were offered on an appointment or walk-in basis. We also spent time performing case management for children with elevated lead levels, managing the Children with Medical Handicaps Program, and working with residents who tested positive for a reportable disease. Naturally, we also spent a fair amount of time meeting to plan for the services and population-based needs of Meigs County’s residents.
In January 2020, we began to suspect that a drastic change was coming in the day-to-day operations within the Nursing Department and the MCHD overall. During February, biweekly COVID-19 focused conference calls started with the Ohio Department of Health and all of Ohio’s 113 local health departments, which became the new norm and exists to this day. When March came, and Governor DeWine called for the State of Ohio COVID-19 Summit of which I as the Director of Nursing and the Emergency Response Coordinator (ERC) attended, we knew that local COVID-19 infections were imminent, and public health was in this pandemic for the long haul.
The MCHD entered Incident Command System (ICS) on March 4 and began planning for the needs of Meigs County. Along with our ERC, Administration, Environmental Health and WIC Program Directors, the Nursing Department met to develop operational plans for both staff and our residents.
The MCHD was deemed an essential service; therefore, we continued to still accept clients for the above-mentioned services by walk-in or appointment, which reduced at that time due to the social distancing recommendations and the subsequent stay-at-home order. The nurses, along with other MCHD staff, began to field dozens of calls related to the orders set forth by Governor DeWine and ODH Director Dr. Amy Acton. Nurses specifically took calls related to ill individuals and testing questions and worked closely with the hospital infection prevention departments and the Holzer Meigs Emergency Room. We identified and actively monitored several contacts of confirmed cases from other counties and states while providing education and support to our residents. We took calls at all hours of the day, including weekends, as residents called the MCHD after-hours line, and needs were addressed. Multiple times daily, nurses checked the Ohio Disease Reporting System and reviewed faxed documents for newly diagnosed cases.
When we learned about our first positive COVID-19 case on April 7, things went into an even higher gear with contacting not only the case, but also tracing contacts, which included an initial call to each contact, set up for daily monitoring of temperature and for signs and symptoms, the issuance of quarantine letters and calls to and from residents who had concerns. We monitored existing contacts for 14 days for each person.
Since that time, and with the easing of some restrictions by Governor DeWine and Dr. Acton, we have seen a bit of an upswing in residents coming to the MCHD for services as expected. We continue to monitor for active, confirmed cases multiple times daily, perform contact tracing as cases come in, monitor contacts of confirmed and probable cases, answer residents’ questions and address the community’s concerns, provide education and guidance, process negative test results while managing our routine day-to-day duties.
As a precaution to both MCHD staff and guests, prior to entry to the MCHD, nursing staff are assessing visitors for signs/symptoms of COVID-19, which includes taking their temperature. Additionally, anyone who enters the MCHD is required to wear a mask, which is issued at the door for those who do not already have one.
Public health nurses are resilient individuals who wear many hats at any given time. We are efficient at addressing the county’s needs while also focusing on new trends and issues. We were here to serve you before the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will continue to be here to serve you as life adjusts to the new normal.
If you have any questions about the MCHD’s nursing services, please don’t hesitate to check out our website at www.meigs-health.com, our Facebook or Twitter pages or you may contact me at 740-992-6626, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Leanne Cunningham is the Director of Nursing at the Meigs County Health Department.