April 3, 2020 – Slinger, WI – We are living in unprecedented times during the Coronavirus outbreak. The public, now more than ever, is relying on our elected officials, and administration at all levels of government to make the right decisions and take preventative steps to protect their constituents and community members, including the most vulnerable.
Our county has a unique situation. Since the Washington and Ozaukee County Health Departments have merged in recent years, the preventative steps to keep the citizens of both counties safe now is left in the hands of a single person, the Public Health Officer, who represents both counties. That means the critical, life saving decisions that the officer is responsible to make, affect the residents of both counties.
In recent weeks there have been outbreaks at local nursing homes in our counties. Not only have many residents tested positive for the Coronavirus, several of the residents have died. The elderly are some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. Because they are in long-term living communities, they rely on many different agencies, including the health department to take the correct and timely, preventive measures to keep them safe, healthy, and alive.
My son is also a member of the vulnerable population. He has a rare disease and has issues sweating properly which causes him to overheat easily. Both my children have issues with asthma. Since it is my responsibility to protect them and keep them safe, I make difficult, but very necessary decisions to protect them from illness and prevent them from unnecessary illnesses.
Each year during flu season, we do not allow visitors in our home, and we restrict our activities to prevent sickness. My kids may miss out on activities, parties, and events, however, I know that their health is more important. We also take time to educate others in our community, and explain the importance of hand washing throughout the year. It is my responsibility as a parent to keep them safe.
According to their website: “The mission of Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department is to improve the quality of life by promoting, protecting, and enhancing the health and well-being of the public.”
Therefore my question would be, who is protecting the most vulnerable in the community? Has the Health Department staff been visiting each of the long term care facilities in the past and explained the importance of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), how to wash hands properly, why it’s important not to come to work sick and so many other health topics that are crucial to stopping the spread of a potentially fatal sickness?
Not relying on others to educate, but actually getting out into the community in desperate times, to do all you can, leaving no stone unturned to protect the most vulnerable?
Why did it take until March 25, 2020, after the outbreaks had started, for the Ozaukee Washington Public Health Director to issue the following: “ordered that all staffing agencies and similar businesses are only able to staff one facility during this state of emergency. This order also requires businesses that transport residents of long-term care facilities to wear personal protective equipment (glove and face-mask) while transporting residents.” And subsequently ordering the following on March 27th, 2020: “ordered long-term-care facilities and first responders to use PPE and ordered limitations on providers going into these facilities.”
While the above orders are very important, in my opinion they were done reactively and should have been implemented proactively before the outbreak, to protect the most vulnerable in our community.
Just like I am responsible for the health of my children and we lock down our house during cold and flu season, it is the responsibility of the Health Department to lockdown their “house” and make sure the ones they are responsible for are safe and protected. Our leaders only get one chance to make the right decisions and the lives of many hinge on those decisions.
Why aren’t our leaders taking a bolder, proactive approach to keeping the virus out of our long term care facilities in the first place, rather than issuing orders after the fact, and trying to minimize outbreak and transmission?
We need to do all we can to stay ahead of this pandemic and to ensure the most vulnerable are proactively protected, as each life matters.
Stay at home and wash your hands!
Becky M. Abbott, MPH
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