Douglas County Health Board approves purchase of masks for community, messaging that racism is a public health crisis
photo by: Kevin Anderson/Journal-World File Photo
The Douglas County Health Board on Monday night approved the purchase of 10,000 masks to be distributed to the community and to issue a statement that racism is a public health crisis.
The masks, which will cost a little under $40,000, will be distributed to those in need and will help support school districts and places with congregate living, such as the Lawrence Community Shelter, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health Director Dan Partridge said.
Health board Vice Chair Shanda Hurla suggested the health department look into purchasing some kids-sized masks, and health board member Stephen Fawcett suggested the health department consider what kind of messaging it might put on the masks.
The health board also approved a public message declaring racism to be a public health crisis.
The message will not be released to the public until all members of the health board sign it, but the declaration in part states that racism “is a harsh reality for many in our community.
“In particular, longstanding and systemic maltreatment of Black people within our nation, state and communities have negatively impacted their housing, educational attainment, income, incarceration rates, and health status,” the message reads. “All are stark reminders that the system was designed to provide advantage to some, while robbing others of fair opportunities based on their identity. We believe that this is inherently wrong.”
The message also includes information from the Douglas County Healthy Equity Report about the unequal burden for Black members of the community. The report found that Black children in Douglas County are 4.7 times more likely to live in poverty, and Black county residents are 4.7 times more likely to be incarcerated than white residents.
The message directs Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health to work with the Community Health Plan Steering Committee to include a fifth issue area focused on Health Equity.
Partridge thanked the health board after the motion was approved.
“You know I hope that we look back on this day and say this is where we turned the corner. So thank you very much for this motion and passage tonight,” he said.
Also on Monday night, the Douglas County Health Board discussed its Douglas County CARES Act proposal. Although the numbers are constantly changing, Partridge said the health department plans to request around or more than $2.1 million. Douglas County will receive nearly $25 million in federal relief funding, the Journal-World has reported. This money will go toward hiring new staff, paying current staff for labor related to COVID-19 duties, infrastructure costs and medical expenses.
New hires for the health department include an epidemiology supervisor, an equity planner, disease investigators and more. The grants would also support compensation for some employees’ expanded roles as a result of the pandemic — such as for health officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino.
Partridge said the health department is already in the process of making new hires despite not yet having submitted their CARES Act funding application, which is due on July 31.
“We can’t just wait for the money or we will not be timely in our response,” Partridge said. “We’re making these commitments without a safety net because it’s what we think we need to do for this community.”
Partridge mentioned that should the health department not receive the amount of funding they anticipate, he has also discussed using reserve funds to cover these new hires.
Infrastructure expenses would go in part to purchase rapid-testing machines and a mobile health unit, which the health department hopes will be in operation in 2021 or sooner. Rapid-testing equipment purchased for this unit could have the capacity to receive results in 30 minutes, according to Linda Craig, the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health director of clinic services.
Infrastructure expenses would also support a remodeling of the health department’s clinic to replace carpets with more easily cleanable flooring, as well as new countertops that would be easier to clean.
Medical expenses will include money to purchase the masks for community distribution.