El Paso County will use more than half of a nearly $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to hire more public health employees and bolster the effort to address pandemic-related health inequalities among underserved populations.

The county received the funds through the CDC’s two-year $2.25 billion national initiative to address COVID-19 health disparities, county Development Officer Carolyn Gery and Grants Coordinator Jordan Linder told the El Paso County Board of Health on Wednesday.

“This funding really directly targets the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 had within certain sectors, within certain population groups, throughout the nation,” Gery said.

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Through July 31, 2023, El Paso County can use the monies to improve testing and contact tracing, develop mitigation and prevention resources and services, expand data collection and reporting capabilities and infrastructure, and increase community outreach to underserved and high-risk populations, including racial and ethnic minority groups as well as people living in rural areas.

The work will build on El Paso County’s past efforts to bridge gaps in testing and vaccine ability through mass clinics across the county, as well as mobile inoculations, Public Health Director Susan Wheelan said.

The county plans to use 65.5% of the funds — about $1.4 million — to hire more personnel, including a health equity officer and nine part-time community navigators, people who interact directly with underserved and high-risk populations and report their needs back to the county, Linder said.

The effort will create “more of a coordinated care model,” Linder said, so health leaders are “really understanding what the impact of COVID-19 has been, specifically to different populations.”

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Wheelan said Wednesday the department has been chronically understaffed.

“We know what to do. We know how to do it,” she said. “But we need the staffing.”

Data from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs show El Paso County’s estimated 2021 population is 739,880 people. Local public health agencies serving a population of between 500,000 and 999,000 should have 269 full-time employees, according to recommendations from the National Association of City and County Health Officials.

El Paso County Public Health has 158 base full-time employees, Wheelan said.

Gery and Wheelan said the health department will continue seeking and advocating for additional funding to keep staff hired during the pandemic on the payroll after 2023, when the grant funds end.

The remainder of the money will be allocated as such, according to a resolution recognizing the revenue:

  • Approximately $372,000 for program expenses
  • $188,500 for contracted services
  • About $138,500 for indirect personnel costs, and
  • Nearly $57,000 for indirect operating costs

El Paso County was among 107 recipients of the non-research grant, eligible as an individual entity because the county serves a city population of more than 400,000 people Gery said.

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The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, and the Douglas County Health Department also received grant funds. Those funds total about $22.5 million, $4.4 million and $2.6 million, respectively, according to a CDC grant recipient list.

 

Reporter

Breeanna Jent covers El Paso County government. She previously worked as the editorial assistant for the Pikes Peak Newspapers and joined their sister paper, The Gazette, in 2020.

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