By Dawn Hatfield
GREENVILLE — The Darke County Board of Health met the morning of Thursday, Sept. 16 to discuss proposed variances, pay bills, and most notably, to debate the implementation of a $100 COVID-19 vaccine incentive for Darke County.
In attendance were board members Timothy Kathman, MD, Curtis Yount, and Krista Fourman (remotely). Also present were Health Commissioner, Terrence Holman, DVM, RS, and Wayne Healthcare CEO, Jeff Subler. Additional Darke County Health District employees were in attendance as well as two members of the public who had variance requests.
Conditional variances were granted to the two members of the public after details were hashed out. The first variance was concerning the approval of a new septic system for the size of a 2-bedroom home when county records mistakenly indicated the home as a 4-bedroom dwelling. The smaller system was approved so long as the owner would allow for annual inspections by the county. The second variance was in regard to the division of lots when one home’s septic system encroached on what would become a new, separate lot. Pending the approval of the planning commission, the variance was conditionally granted with back-up plans in place to address potential future issues when the system will need to be replaced. The addition of 50 feet to the back of the lot will be necessary if NPDES cannot be approved.
An O & M resolution was approved to submit unpaid fees on real property taxes, and an increase of $178 for expanded health district information system, the main environmental health database, was approved with the caveat that new servers will eventually be needed.
Regarding COVID-19, $60,000 additional funds were received as a supplemental grant with the deadline extended to Dec. 31. Of the grant, $30,000 is allotted for use as a cash card incentive program for individuals who get their first COVID-19 vaccination once the program is implemented. This is not a retroactive program and only rewards those who get the shot after the program begins. It would be payable upon the first dose of the vaccination. Guidelines are set by the state of Ohio, not locally. Out of a local one-day survey of approximately 70 individuals, 12 thought it was a good idea; the remainder did not. Discussion was held regarding activation fees of such cards as well as the potential of local banks to furnish them. At present, no local banks use these types of cards and/or provide them at little to no fee. Montgomery County is buying cards from U.S. Bank, which would be a possible option.
At the time of the meeting, only 180 to 200 doses of vaccines were being distributed county-wide each week, and only 34.64 percent of the Darke County population had received the first vaccination shot. Dr. Holman made mention of a focus on inequity groups. Concern over potential abuse of the incentive system prompted a question about the ability to require photo IDs. A board member asked if the $30,000 was to be used exclusively for the incentive plan or if it could be reallocated. Members had differing opinions on this as one individual believed it was exclusive to the vaccine incentive program, but the health commissioner believed a budget revision could be implemented to allow for alternative usage.
Dr. Kathman brought the members back to the focus on health, stating, “I’m sure that there are different opinions, wide-ranging opinions about this sort of thing… At least from my perspective, no one gets hurt by enticing people with a cash reward for getting vaccinated. You might upset folks who are opposed to such a program, but in the end, no one really gets hurt by it.” He continued by asserting he did not feel the matter required action of the board but could be implemented by the health commissioner.
Jeff Subler, CEO of Wayne Healthcare, then emphasized the current stress on the healthcare system. Speaking in regard to both the local area and beyond, Subler worried that the system is “near a precipice” as there is now a “serious, serious stress on the healthcare system” that “could get worse.” Subler continued by sharing the frustration level in healthcare is currently very high.
In regard to vaccines, Kathman expressed that “we are all entitled to self-determination,” and Holman worried that, “if [people are] forced, resistance may be even greater.” Subler explained COVID is exacerbating even non-COVID issues now by taking up hospital space needed for treatment of “normal” emergencies. Of about 130 people tested daily at the time of the meeting, there are 20 to 40 positive cases. Subler explained that the hospital has had to mandate staff, which is not sustainable long term. Along with growing concerns regarding inpatient care, staff burnout is an issue. He ended, “We don’t have a pool of people waiting at the door to replace [staff].” It was reported that approximately 55 percent of the hospital staff has been vaccinated, including physicians.
The members did agree on one final thought: Changing people’s attitudes [about vaccines and COVID] is nearly impossible.
Furthermore, positive rates are up among school-age kids, at a 12.5 average. Even though there were 81 total weekly student cases and 17 staff cases across eight school districts at the date of the board meeting, it was stressed that a lot of the virus transmission is among family members and not necessarily in the schools. It was mentioned that the Labor Day holiday was hopefully a big culprit in the recent high numbers.
Update: Information obtained from the Darke County Health District following the Board of Health meeting indicates COVID vaccine clinics on Sept. 29 and 30 will distribute $100 cash cards while supplies last. These clinics are for anyone age 12 years or older. The clinics will be offering Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. Everyone who receives their first dose will receive the $100 cash card. For individuals under 18, a parent or guardian must be present. Appointments are required for the COVID clinics; call the Health Department at 937-548-4196 ext. 271. Leftover cash cards will be distributed to those receiving their first dose COVID vaccine at the Darke County Health Department’s weekly Tuesday vaccine clinics, starting Oct. 5. For Tuesday clinic appointments, call 937-548-4196 ext. 224.
At the time of publication there were 337 new COVID-19 cases being reported in Darke County since last Monday (Sept.13); there were 270 reported cases for the previous week.
To contact Daily Advocate Reporter Dawn Hatfield email [email protected].