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Health Dept. has funds for new positions, but no employees yet

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of August 13, 2020)

Given the time it takes to sift through resumes and fill even one or two open positions, it’s little surprise that the Indian River County Health Department has not instantaneously filled the 28 positions recently funded by CARES Act dollars.

But the $927,000 needed to put two epidemiologists,10 nurses, nine data clerks, two call center employees, one health educator and four other employees on the payroll is now available, according to Indian River County Health Department spokesperson Stacy Brock.

The new employees will bolster the Health Department’s contract tracing ability and perform other COVID-19-related duties.

The money was part of a chunk of federal funds sent to Tallahassee where Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff divvied up the funding to Florida’s 67 counties according to size, need and the resources requested by public health officials.

“We are currently interviewing for the positions you are referencing,” Brock said. “Potential candidates have been from many areas across the state. During this transition of hiring new staff, we are currently utilizing contractual staff and DOH-Indian River staff to continue our efforts in case investigation and contact tracing.”

To handle the COVID-19 crisis and the surge of cases this summer, the local health department enlisted temporary workers to perform various tasks including contact tracing, at a rate of $25 per hour, according to employment advertisements. Existing employees were also cross-trained from their pre-COVID duties to pitch in with the pandemic.

“The new staff will replace our contractual staff,” Brock said.

The Indian River County Health Department still has three job listings posted on the website, seeking a nurse to focus on contact tracing, plus a nurse for school and pediatric COVID-19 issues, and an environmental specialist. Florida counties are competing to attract the same health workers, with nearly 200 jobs listed on the site.

It’s unclear how the Florida Department of Health will fund recurring salary and benefits costs for new full-time workers here and statewide after using up the money passed down through the CARES Act, if those employees remain on the books for more than one year to deal with ongoing COVIS-19 related duties.