The McLean County Health Department is getting closer to its target of having enough contact tracers available to deal with the rise in novel coronavirus infections in Bloomington-Normal and around the region.
Health Department Director Jessica McKnight told the County Board Health Committee Monday evening an additional 20 contact tracers will be in place by the end of the year under a state grant.
“We’re bringing our total to 55. Including our 55 that are hired through the grant, and then around 40 student workers through ISU, and student nurses, and our staff that are already trained to help out with surge capacity, that brings us to between 110 and 120,” said McKnight.
According to a formula developed in the state of Massachusetts, McLean County should have 124 contact tracers, according to the health department report. The hiring process began back in July after state grants were awarded.
Meanwhile complaints over COVID safety continue to mount.
The health department received 89 complaints in the two-month interval from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31. The total for the year is 426.
“And that could be about social distancing, that could be about masking and also about the mitigations, with businesses being open outside of different tier strategies,” said McKnight.
She said the first step is to reach out to businesses and give them guidance on safety procedures and the rules in place from the state. With additional complaints, McKnight said the health department reaches back out and asks for a plan to comply.
“I’ve heard of a few cases where at least two friends of mine have stopped going to a business because the owner doesn’t believe in masks, period," said health committee member George Gordon. “There are limits on the authority of the health department.”
In most instances. McKnight said, there is good cooperation from businesses.
At a question from committee member Catherine Metsker, McKnight also responded to a recent public comment from Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner that a restrictive interpretation of the law on health department enforcement has "castrated" the health department ability to crack down on mitigation scoffers.
McKnight said the department feels "supported" by the state’s attorney’s office.
County Nursing Home
The committee voted to approve a 3% increase in private pay rates at the McLean County Nursing Home.
The rate would go from $222/day to $229/day for private pay patients for a semi-private room. A private pay private room resident would pay $246/day up from $239.
Committee members asked whether it would be better to phase in part of the increase at the first of the year and part later. Gordon said the objective would be to see how expenses and revenue change. He expressed the hope expenses would be lower next year than this unusual period.
Nursing Home Administrator Terri Edens said multiple increases tend to anger the public more than a single increase of the same total amount.
“With the industry trends and area competition we do have to stay competitive. I don’t think 3% is way out of line. We’re not going to be the highest and we’re not going to be the lowest,” said Edens.
She said two facilities in the county had two increases of 4% each.
The Health Committee financial recommendations will go to the County Executive Committee and, if approved there, the full board.
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