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Consultant hired to look at Rowan Board of Health structure; plan for indoor COVID-19 vaccine clinics set

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Health will employ the services of an independent consultant to determine if the department needs to be restructured.

During the board’s virtual meeting on Tuesday night, Health Board Chair Dari Caldwell announced that the board has entered into a contract with retired public health director Fred Pilkington, who will examine the department’s structure and deliver his findings and recommendations.

“He is going to work with us over the next many months to look at our structure, help us shake out any wrinkles we may have and help us try to come up with the right organization structure for us to be successful moving forward,” Caldwell said. 

Caldwell said that she believes Pilkington can have that work completed by May 1.

Caldwell has a “longstanding relationship” with Pilkington from her time serving on the Board of Health for the Cabarrus Health Alliance. Pilkington served as the executive director for the alliance for 38 years before retiring two years ago.

“He was the first person I called to see if he could help us because I knew he had the knowledge and experience we really need,” Caldwell said.

The Board of Health’s decision to hire Pilkington comes after the Rowan County Board of Commissioners have discussed several options for consolidating the health department in recent months.

“I have had some preliminary discussion with (County Manager) Aaron Church and (Chairman) Greg Edds about this and we’ll see where this goes,” Caldwell said.

Pilkington has been sent the options for consolidation that commissioners have discussed and will include those in his analysis. However, Caldwell said that she was clear with Pilkington that the Board of Health has no preconceived notions about how it wants to move forward and that he should recommend whatever is best for Rowan County.

“I’ve asked him to also look at our internal structure to see if there’s anything he would improve upon if he were to look at it from the standpoint of consulting to say ‘You have too many people in one category, you don’t have enough over here. You need a head of this department or that department,’” Caldwell said. “Both internal organization structure as well as how we fit with the county.”

Caldwell said that the Board of Health would like to receive Pilkington’s analysis before it permanently fills the position of health director. Alyssa Harris is currently serving in an interim role after Nina Oliver resigned last month to accept a similar position in eastern North Carolina.

“We are holding off posting our health director position in lieu of which avenue this may take,” Caldwell said. “We’re anxious to move things forward.”

Also on Tuesday, Kendall Phillips, public health preparedness coordinator for the Health Department, presented the board with a plan for hosting COVID-19 vaccination clinics inside the event center at West End Plaza. All vaccine clinics up to this point have been conducted in a drive-thru fashion outside in the West End Plaza parking lot. 

Phillips said that the drive-thru method is still preferred, but that it will be helpful for the department to have an indoor plan in case of unpredictable weather or the need for an evening clinic.

The plan put together by Phillips, with consultation from Rowan County Emergency Management Division Chief T.J. Brown, will have patients enter the building from the entrance on the side of the event center (formerly JCPenney) near the fountain, walk into the event center through the indoor entrance and receive the vaccine in a designated area. The patients will then go to another area for reaction monitoring and can then exit out of one of two doors, which will prevent high traffic areas from forming.

A graphic of the Rowan County Health Department’s indoor COVID-19 vaccine clinic plan.

Caldwell said that the plan would give the Health Department more options moving forward.

“There have been days when it’s been so cold when we were looking at zero degree chill factor outside I got concerned about our staff,” Caldwell said. “To the opposite extreme, I know we’ll be giving vaccines during the summer and hopefully we won’t have a 100 degree day, but we could. To have this option already planned gives you so much flexibility.”

The Board of Health applauded the indoor vaccination clinic plan. Harris said that the plan would be presented to the Board of Commissioners, who encouraged the Health Department to develop such a strategy at a meeting last month.

In other meeting business:

Harris said at last count the county has distributed 17,000 COVID-19 first dose vaccines and 12,000 second doses, which mean 8% of people in the county have received a second dose. She said those numbers have likely already increased and is proud of the number of people they have been able to vaccinate.

The Board of Health is currently looking to fill the vacant position of health systems administrator, which essentially serves as the department’s finance director and is charged with overseeing the department’s $8.6 million budget. Harris said that it is important for the department to fill the position soon.

The Board of Health discussed the need to fill a recent board vacancy left by former member Jennifer Lynn Jones, who resigned last month. The vacant position is an at-large position that can be held by someone from the general public. To apply for the position, applicants are encouraged to visit onboard.rowancountync.gov and click the “Apply For Position” tab in the top right corner of the page. Applications are reviewed by commissioners for final approval.

Environmental Health Supervisor Adrian Pruett provided the board with an update on the vulture problem that has developed at a residence in the Beck Road area. Commissioners have been working to disperse the vultures that have gathered around the home to feast on leftover deer carcasses that were left out to be fed on by the home owner’s dogs. Pruett said that a vulture effigy has been hung on a tree near the house in an attempt to scare off the vultures.

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