Supplemental pandemic pay for Allen County government employees will continue, following a unanimous County Council vote Thursday.
The ordinance was updated after a presentation from Allen County Health Department Administrator Mindy Waldron, who explained the impact COVID-19 has had on her agency.
The extended ordinance is retroactive to May 18 and lasts through the end of the year.
“We've gone from zero to 60 in just an eight-month period and it's just been a quick, winding, ever-changing and fairly challenging road,” Waldron told the council.
The Health Department's nonstop efforts in combating the virus have taken their toll on staff, who Waldron described as “resolute.” Allen County has had more than 7,400 cases since March, Waldron said.
“I think every sentence, every criteria in every governor's order ends with either 'Call your local health department,' or 'that will be enforced by the local health department,'” she said. “That has been difficult.”
The challenges have been immense, Waldron said. The department's community support hotlines are continuously busy and an entire division is devoted solely to delivering personal protective equipment to facilities throughout the county.
“We've hired people as food inspectors who haven't done a food inspection yet,” she said. “All they've done is mask complaints, to the tune of well over 600 of those in the last four months since the governor's orders went into place. That's all they've done.”
The Health Department has also delivered nearly 80,000 masks, 157,000 gloves, 3,200 gowns, 539 gallons of hand sanitizer to 257 sites across the county since March, Waldron said.
Many employees have worked hundreds of hours without time off. Waldron said she's taken two days off since March. “For us, COVID is all day, every day,” she said. “And I mean every day, without a break.”
Thursday's approval continues the previous supplemental pay ordinance approved this spring. The earlier version expired on May 17, Auditor Nick Jordan said.
The original pandemic pay salary ordinance was approved on May 21 and granted eligible hourly employees an additional $2.50 per hour for time worked between March 16 and May 17.
Eligible employees include those who have and have had frequent direct physical contact with people diagnosed with COVID-19 or those who are seeking a diagnosis. County workers who have regular, unavoidable contact with the public, or are working in 24-hour operations dealing with the public, were also eligible under the original ordinance.
Salaried health department workers, who are exempt from overtime pay, received a lump-sum bonus.
Jordan said he doesn't yet know how much the ordinance will cost, but noted that the county paid more than $330,000 in supplemental pay for the March through May period.
Councilman Kyle Kerley, R-at large, asked whether there is a plan to hire more people.
“From a budgetary standpoint what are we doing to lessen the reliance on overtime pay, maybe by bringing in other workers to do some of those other tasks, to allow you guys to live a little bit again, if that makes any sense,” he said.
Waldron said she hopes to begin filling some jobs that have been vacant for years, but it will take some time. “I don't know that we have anything short-term, but we know we are missing several high-level positions that we've talked about but never made that effort,” she said.
Waldron said to start, the department needs a health educator and a dedicated epidemiologist.
“Several high-level positions most health departments have, we have never had,” Waldron said, adding that she has a long-range plan to fix that and increase staff levels.
The department has managed its budget well enough, she said, to be able to handle the brunt of those costs without additional funding from the County Council over the next couple of years.