Kiowa County Health Department in need of more personnel

By Edward J. Naughton
Kiowa County Signal
The Kiowa County Health Department is in need of more personnel as COVID-19 cases surge around the state, but those currently working stay dedicated to serving the community.

As the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to surge around Kansas, the Kiowa County Health Department stays committed to serving Kiowa County residents despite having a limited number of staff on hand.

Administrator Kerri Ulrich said she is budgeted for at least four personnel at the health department, including herself, but she is one person short of what she really needs to help people in Kiowa County in a timely manner.

“I have 24 people scheduled for tomorrow, about 15 of which need COVID vaccination, and the others are on the schedule for various needs administered through our department, including foot care," Ulrich said.

On Monday, Aug. 16, new hire-- Jess Steyn, Public Health Technician-- began working in the department and familiarizing herself with her new job.

"Jess is getting training from me on our procedures and also participating in online tutorials to better understand her role in the department,” Ulrich said. “She is meeting our expectations very well."

While Ulrich feels a sense of relief that some help has arrived, she says she still needs another nurse to carry the load equitably.

"In a small rural health department, we provide every service that is available from the standpoint of Kansas public health. To compare, in looking at an urban area, they would have separate clinics-- one for family planning for instance-- and another basically for immunizations,” Ulrich said. “In a smaller, rural clinic like ours, we do all of those things here in a small rural clinic, and we do that all day. So, we could have a WIC appointment, family planning, health screenings appointment, or an immunization appointment, in quick succession. Then, the next appointment after that might be foot care, so there are time and manpower challenges to meet those needs."

To add an additional registered nurse in the department, Ulrich is seeking grant money to be authorized for a new nurse hire. She is hopeful that she will find out soon if that authorization for the grant money it takes to hire a new nurse has come in from the state.

She said that Kiowa County Commissioners play a role in terms of a health board capacity to make sure the process of the grant authorization is followed closely until it is obtained from the state.

Earlier this year, Ulrich said she lost two employees, both of whom were public health technicians. The main reason was that the technicians had young children at home, and it was difficult to arrange daycare for their children in Kiowa County, so they resigned their positions at the health department in favor of jobs that put them in closer proximity to accessible daycare.

Nicole Zadina, R.N., is also on staff at Kiowa County Health department.

Ulrich said that Zadina helps her a lot, with not only immunizations, but with many other needs for residents-- including foot care.

"I just recently asked the county commissioners to hire on a second R.N. which we pay for through grant funds to help with COVID-relief. Our department never stopped any other service, and we never stopped foot care either,” Ulrich said. “We just stopped going to off-site clinics where we would combine people-- 15 in a room for instance-- for foot care at a time. So now, they come in here, one at a time, for a scheduled visit."

Ulrich said that seniors especially need help with their feet, for many reasons, including for problems like callus formation which causes pain when walking. As part of foot care, they try to scale the callus formations down, and the department offers preventative health advice for foot problems, especially for seniors.

Anyone who wants foot care in Kiowa County has to call and make an appointment to obtain foot care at the health department clinic because previous locally scheduled monthly availability in the various community locations like Haviland, Mullinville, and Kiowa County Senior Center are not being offered right now.

While many seniors no longer drive and instead rely on others to bring them to their scheduled foot care appointments, there is concern that these seniors may be restricted by transportation limits.

"I think we live in a very amazing community that works together to help out its neighbors, and so when we have situations like that, where people cannot drive or are challenged in their ability to drive, a neighbor has stepped up to help them get here for their foot appointment," Ulrich said.

The Kiowa County Health Department is open Monday through Friday, but on Friday, the department is only open for half of a day. The posted hours for appointments are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and Fridays from 8 a.m. until noon. The phone number for appointments is 620-723-2136.