WESTFIELD, NJ — Since the pandemic’s start, the Westfield Regional Health Department has investigated over 1,801 coronavirus cases across the eight towns it serves, its director said.
But the department’s resources continue to be strained, and the start of the academic year has led to a rise cases that are keeping the contact tracers working around-the-clock, Director Megan Avallone told the Westfield Board of Health on Monday.
Adding to the strain, Avallone said, is the department’s inability to fully staff its operation as it waits for the state to distribute federal grant monies promised to local health departments months ago.
“We will be getting eventually $122,000 for a fulltime position, but if I’m being honest, we need that position today,” Avallone said. “We’re struggling today. We’re back to all hands on deck working seven days a week.”
In addition to providing services to Westfield, the regional health department serves Chatham Borough, Fanwood, Garwood, Mountainside, New Providence, Roselle Park and Summit.
While an approximately $52,000 grant distributed through the state in May allowed the regional health department to hire per-diem disease investigators, Avallone said, the department is still waiting for the $122,000 promised to local departments statewide over the summer.
Board of health members discussed drafting a resolution urging the state to release the funds but have yet to take that measure.
In a July, the state Health Department announced it would be distributing $32.3 million in federal funding to county and local health departments to support COVID-19 response across New Jersey's 21 counties, including funds that would allow certain departments to staff the following positions: COVID Data Manager/Epidemiologist, COVID Social Support Coordinator and COVID Coordinator.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department offered the following update:
“The Department of Health notified local health departments that we anticipated CDC funding available to support their outreach to vulnerable population(s) as part of their COVID response,” said the spokeswoman, Dawn Thomas. “Since that time, the CDC has confirmed that this funding will be available. The Department expects to have a funding application ready for the local health departments in the coming weeks.”
Speaking to Westfield’s board of health, Avallone noted that the funding challenge is not unique to her health department as the county’s health department, which her department coordinates with, faces a similar challenge.
“Union County has still not received its funding for the contract tracing supervisors either,” she said.