County joins program to increase public health staff

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County joins program to increase public health staff


OBSERVER Photo by Gregory Bacon
Pictured are members of the Chautauqua County Legislature.

MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County has accepted a grant that is designed to provide more staff to its public health department.

During last week’s county Legislature meeting, lawmakers approved a resolution to accept state Department of Public Health Corps Fellowship Program Funding, up to $2,019,068. The money is being used to bring “fellows” to the county.

In recent committee meetings, Christine Schuyler, public health director and commissioner of Social Services, said it is unlikely the county will receive the full amount.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to utilize the full $2 million. That would be enough to staff 13 employees. We are thinking more like four fellows,” she said during a meeting of the Human Services Committee.

On Wednesday, during the full legislature meeting, some members of the public expressed concern about the grant. A Panama resident alleged that if the county accepted the grant, those individuals would be used by the state to quarantine people in their own homes if their wastewater tests positive for COVID.

Before the vote took place by the full legislature, Chairman Pierre Chagnon said he spoke with a county resident about the resolution. That person is an epidemiologist and is employed by New York City but lives in the local area.

Chagnon later found out this person was one of the developers of the fellowship program. He said he and Legislator Tom Harmon, R-Silver Creek, talked to him about the program for about 90 minutes.

According to Chagnon, this program was established six months into the COVID-19 pandemic when the state and the counties recognized there weren’t enough people who work in public health.

“The concept was how to we get more people involved in public health, trained in public health and educated in public health. So this was started as a means to encouraging people to become more educated in public health,” he said.

Chagnon noted that by putting people in fellowships to work with county health departments, they could learn about the field and assist current public health employees.

Chagnon said these fellows, which he referred to as students, would be paid through a not-for-profit and be under the direction of the county health department, not the state.

“They are there to help the county health department, the public health department, and they are there to learn and to experience the public health field first hand so that they can become better educated about the practice of public health and also to encourage those who are interested in pursuing education and public health,” he said.

After Chagnon’s explanation, the legislature unanimously adopted the resolution.

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