Unique to Butler County: ‘Blessed’ to have 3 health departments, official says

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

During the past year of the coronavirus pandemic, Butler County Health Commissioner Jennifer Bailer said the county has been “blessed” to have three separate health districts — Hamilton, Middletown, and the county as a whole.

That’s a very unique position for residents of the county. Those departments have been tested like never before in implementing precautionary orders, aiding in testing programs and then playing a role in the huge COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

By accounts of the three health departments’ commissioners and those who work with them, the public-health leaders and their staffs have been working days and nights, all week.

Bailer was busy enough that on March 10, in response to questions for this report, she said: “I am writing this from my phone at the drive-through clinic at the fairgrounds today. Because I am here today, I will be sorting through emails until late this evening as I do every evening to try to be caught up. The other two HCs (health commissioners) have been, and continue to have 12-15 hour days, including weekends.”

In efforts to sign up older people for coronavirus vaccines, Hamilton city staff across various departments have been spending part of their days and weekends calling people to set appointments for them.

“I can say that I am so appreciative of having two other Health Commissioners in Butler County and feel that the citizens are so blessed to have three who work hard everyday to protect them,” Bailer wrote. “Each of us has an area we are responsible for, and that we kind of specialize in.”

“At the same time, we work together on a number of things,” Bailer added. “Some grants come only one per county and so the Butler County district receives it and shares portions of the money with the others based on population. We take on the fiscal accounting for that, and the cities write their reports and send them to us, which we then send to the state.”

Other funding goes directly to each district, she said.

Hamilton Health Commissioner Kay Farrar answered questions on Wednesday between events, just before she, Bailer and Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips were expected to be on a conference call with the Ohio National Guard.

“It’s an asset,” Farrar said. “We have three different groups of people you can get vaccinations from. I would think that would be a benefit to citizens.”

While Farrar early in the pandemic said the three districts were working closely to share information and coordinate efforts, she said this week: “We’re all working very independently right now, just because the demand is there, and we’re all doing our own cities and our own jurisdictions.”

“So there hasn’t been a lot of collaboration,” she said, “other than we’re on a lot of calls, with a lot of people, all day long, and this one that I’ll be on coming up here with the National Guard will be with Jackie and Jenny as well.”

Some social-media critics have noted that Hamilton in 2018 cut two of its three public nursing staff, which some complained would harm immunizations against such things as outbreaks of hepatitis A and the flu, as well as possible pandemics. The city later had to hire one nurse to meet state requirements.

Farrar last March said the staff cut didn’t harm the city in fighting a pandemic, because when something like this arrives, even with three city nurses, “there’s no way we could vaccinate 64,000 people by ourselves.”

In such cases, she said then, a large group of medical reserve corps nurses is available to help with shots.

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