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Local health departments, DHHR honored by West Virginia Association of Counties for pandemic work

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — County health departments around West Virginia and the state DHHR were honored on Monday for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic by the West Virginia Association of Counties.

During the association’s (WVACO) annual meeting at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Charleston, officials on hand for each county accepted an “Outstanding Service” award to bring back to their local health departments. Dr. Ayne Amjad, the State Health Officer and Commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health, accepted the award for the DHHR and gave brief remarks.

Speaking with MetroNews, Amjad said it was a balancing act for many inside a local health department to deal with COVID-19 and continue with the normal health services. She said especially with not having the proper amount of staff to deal with a health pandemic.

“They had to deal with flu, they are still doing well visit check, GYN stuff, they still had to do tetanus vaccine. They had to juggle 10 other roles while still dealing with a COVID pandemic. They were stressed to the level that is unbelievable,” Amjad said of the work ethic of local health officials.

Tammy Tincher, a Greenbrier County Commissioner agreed with Amjad. She told MetroNews that health officials in her county have not gotten a break in 18 months even with dozens of volunteers helping with testing and vaccination clinics.

“They work all day, all night, holidays, weekends, they worked at home and worked at the office,” Tincher said. “Working on COVID issues while there were other issues such as regular, everyday services at the health department.”

Tincher was presented the award on behalf of Greenbrier County from Amjad and WVACO President, Marion County Sheriff Jimmy Riffle. She said in conversations with other county commissioners, many realized there was not enough space, staff and time to attack the virus early on and it put too much pressure on local health leaders.

She said since the early stages, her county has implemented guidelines in items to help in situations like they were in. Tincher said the commission is even looking into enlarging the size of the health department with federal COVID funding.

The Greenbrier County Health Department only has a handful of employees with the director, Bridgett Morrison, working full-time at Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, Tincher said.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done by counties and state levels to make sure that our health departments run smoother and provide better services. In situations like COVID or regular services offered,” she said.

Tincher also said that there could be improvements with communication between the state and local levels during the pandemic. She said it wasn’t on purpose but it was difficult to communicate between the two parties which caused ‘chaos’ that could have been prevented.

“It did cause a lot of alarm at times because things would be mentioned publicly before our individuals and people on the ground had that information. Social media caused the information to spread so much faster,” she said.

Amjad recognized the stress all parties were under to get out the right information.

“They got a lot of questions from the public because COVID wasn’t so black and white,” she said. “Every day we were getting fed information from the CDC, from multiple healthcare specialists. Counties also needed up-to-date information because people from their own level wanted information from physicians to regular, everyday people.”

Amjad noted that even with restrictions easing, the pandemic is not over. She said work with vaccinations still needs to be done, especially in the age range of 30-50-year-olds.

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