In the last month, the Woodford County Health Department hired and trained up to six new contact tracers. Three of them already have quit.
Now, Health Department Administrator Hillary Aggertt is looking to offer hazard pay to contact tracers as the county struggles to retain employees willing to put up with the abuse.
"People are not nice. They've cussed at us. They feel like they would spit in our face if they saw us in person," she said at a recent board of health meeting. "It has not been pleasant in the last 30 to 60 days."
She said many respondents, including people with confirmed positive cases, are confrontational and refuse to cooperate with contact tracing, or refuse to respond entirely. Close contacts of a confirmed positive case are even less likely to cooperate, she said.
"It's very political-based, depending on what that looks like," said Aggertt. "It's more or less, is government going to tell you what to do or not, rather than we're trying to help as much as we can."
Aggertt said the hazard pay would be split into five tiers, with an additional $100 added per tier depending on how many additional stressors are involved. The board of health unanimously approved paying it out per pay period.
"At least this might be a cushion to stay with it a little longer," Aggertt said. "But that's not a be-all, end-all. Because it truly is an emotional toll on you, as well."
Aggertt acknowledged months of continual contact tracing has taken a toll on her small staff. But she said she's trying to remind them there's only so much they can humanly do.
"It doesn't feel good. You don't feel successful when you've really only hit a very tiny piece of the pie on the radar," she said, noting contact tracers might only reach a fraction of the more than 100 calls still on the contact tracing list on an average day. One call averages an hour and 40 minutes for one positive case, she said.
It takes nine of 12 full-time health department staff members for contact tracing. There are now also seven contact tracers on staff.
Meanwhile, the health department is looking to spend contact tracing grants to purchase a new freezer to store COVID-19 vaccines when they are widely distributed.
As of Monday, Woodford County reported 1,808 COVID-19 cases and 26 deaths.
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