County Health Officer Dr. William Marcrum addresses the Perry County Council at a council meeting held at Tell City Jr.-Sr. High School on April 12. Marcrum’s discussion with the council centered primarily on the topic of a grant that will provide funding assistance for COVID-19 vaccination. Staff photo by Dariush Shafa
County Health Officer Dr. William Marcrum addresses the Perry County Council at a council meeting held at Tell City Jr.-Sr. High School on April 12. Marcrum’s discussion with the council centered primarily on the topic of a grant that will provide funding assistance for COVID-19 vaccination. Staff photo by Dariush Shafa
PERRY COUNTY – County Health Department officials have disputed statements made by county council members regarding a grant being pursued by the health department, with the dispute taking place over an exchange of emails that began during the afternoon of Wednesday, April 14.

The initial email in the exchange was sent by Sara Gehlhausen, public health nurse, who noted that they did not delay on expressing intent to accept the grant. Emails provided by Gehlhausen show that she notified Kaitlin Watson, an ISDH public health emergency preparedness manager, on Dec. 17, 2020 that the Perry County Health Department was submitting a letter of intent to accept the grant funding. The emails throughout this exchange were made available by health department staff to the Perry County News.

Mid-February is when some other counties in ISDH District 10 (which includes Perry County) began receiving notification of the grant funding. Even then, Gehlhausen said, it took weeks for the funding notification to come through.

“The Perry County Health Department diligently kept asking for and about the grant money as we started and hosted all COVID-vaccine clinics without this financial aid from this state grant,” Gehlhausen said. “The counties in District 10 that had received the grant funding encouraged those of us counties in District 10 that had not received the funding to be ‘the squeaky wheel!’ Therefore emails, text messages and calls were sent daily pleading the case for Perry County until we finally received an unofficial notice.”

And Gehlhausen said they acted as quickly as they could once they received the official notification.

“We have had access to this grant funding since March 27, 2021. We sent it to the council on March 30, 2021,” Gehlhausen said.

Council Member David Etienne wrote in response that he appreciated Gehlhausen’s clarifications but further questioned some of the details of the timing.

“We were only acting on information that the ISDH had relayed to us which was that the Regional Managers were notified by email on December 7, 2020 and that email was to be forwarded to local partners informing them of the deliverables-based agreement. We are also aware of Counties in

Region 10 that did receive notification in early December of 2020,” Etienne wrote.

Gehlhausen responded further that the notification received in December was about intent only and Perry County acted quickly to express that intent.

“As stated before, all they wanted in December was to know if we would be interested,” Gehlhausen wrote in her email. “There was NO other mention of it to any county anywhere in District 10 until mid-February.”

Gehlhausen also expressed frustration that the council did not communicate with the health department.

“Once again I was told that our county council called another county and understood them to say they got the grant in December. What our county council did not do is call this health department,” Gehlhausen said.

County Health Officer Dr. William Marcrum also backed Gehlhausen’s statements in an email sent about an hour after hers, and also strongly rebuffed the council’s statements.

“Just to reiterate the comments I made at the meeting Monday, I had yet to receive a call, email, text, carrier pigeon message or other communication from ANY council member regarding the grant that was approved Monday until we began the process of applying for the grant in late March. IF members of the council were aware of a grant in December then WHY NOT ASK why the Health Department had not acted on it when you became aware of said funding? Implying that Sara and Tara [Lucas, public health nurse] just twiddled their thumbs for over three months with $40,000 on the line borders on slander!”

Dr. Marcrum also strongly objected to the council’s choices on funding for the department.

“I wonder how many voters know that the Council added exactly ZERO additional dollars to the Health Department’s budget throughout 2020 while the nurses were working 60 or more hours a week helping control the pandemic,” Dr. Marcrum said.

Dr. Marcrum added that the health department’s funding was uncertain until federal funds were allocated to pay for staff overtime.

“Had the commissioners not allowed CARES Act funds to pay for overtime (an act that has been questioned by more than one member of the Council) Sara and Tara would almost certainly have had more comp time built up than they could ever have used. Yet, when the CARES Act funds ran out the Council wanted to manage overtime rather than pay for a needed service,” Dr. Marcrum wrote. “I guess that where I am going with this line of thought is if the Council wants to micromanage the Health Department then please feel free to take my name off of the letterhead!”

In an email provided to the Perry County News on Monday, Dr. Marcrum said he has not heard any additional responses from the council since he sent his email.

“In my perfect world the Health Department would be more adequately funded by the Council. The fact that we have to get grants in order to pay for the full contingent of staff is, in my opinion, a sign of lack of leadership by the Council,” Dr. Marcrum said.

Dr. Marcrum added that public health services should not be taken for granted when funding is being determined.

“Yes, bringing jobs to the county is important. But, if public health goes into the dumpster then not many industries are going to head in this direction,” Dr. Marcrum said.

Dr. Marcrum concluded his email response by expressing his desire for this matter to result in additional county support for the health department.

“I don’t expect a medal for what the Health Department has been able to accomplish over the last 14 months but I would like to see the Council acknowledge that they are getting more than their money’s worth and start to fund our department with the same enthusiasm that they fund those departments who were allowed to work from home for months,” Dr. Marcrum said.
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