In the face of growing criticism from elected officials and community members over its vaccine rollout, the Prince William state-run local health district has revealed that 27% of its positions are currently vacant – the highest of all. state-run local health districts in Northern Virginia. , according to state health authorities.
Of the 102 positions in the Prince William Health District, 28 are vacant, including nine public health nurse positions, spokeswoman Kathy Stewart said in an email February 23.
Prince William, Loudoun, and Alexandria are the only places in Northern Virginia that have state-run health districts. But Loudoun’s vacancy rate is 5% and Alexandria’s 16%, according to Virginia Department of Health spokesperson Lorrie Andrew-Spear.
Fairfax and Arlington have their own county-run health services that are not state-run.
District Director Dr Alison Ansher said Thursday, March 4, that low salaries for district staff and competition with other public health departments in the region are factors that may be contributing to the district’s high vacancy rate. But the district did not respond to questions about how the Prince William Health District salaries compare to those of other health districts run by the state of Northern Virginia, which have fewer vacancies.
The Prince William County Board of Supervisors attempted to address the issue when the pandemic first began in March 2020 by providing $ 300,000 in salary supplements to help fill and retain public health nurse positions of the district.
These funds have helped fill many of the district’s vacant public health nurse positions, according to district nurse manager Linda Wood. But of the district’s 19 public health nurse positions, nearly half remain vacant.
Loudoun’s local contribution almost doubled that of Prince William
State-run health districts in Virginia receive 55% of their state funding and 45% of local matching funds from the counties and cities they serve. But localities can choose to contribute local funds above the state requirement.
Some, like Loudoun and Alexandria, have contributed much more to their local health district than Prince William. Local funding for Loudoun and Alexandria exceeded $ 7 million in 2021. Prince William County, which serves a larger population than Loudoun and Alexandria, provided only $ 3.6 million to the health district in 2021.
Local funding for the Prince William Health District has declined sharply over the past decade, even as the county has added nearly 100,000 new residents. Local county funding for the health district peaked in 2008 at $ 5.3 million before being cut back in the years following the Great Recession, according to county documents.
Funding for the district declined steadily from 2009 to a low of $ 3.2 million per year in 2016. It was there until 2021, when the council approved new ones. spending on salaries for public health nurses, the first major increase in the local budget for the district since the recession. .
Entrepreneurs filling certain positions
Wood, the nurse in charge of the health district, said the district relied on some contract and volunteer positions to fill gaps in unfilled positions in the district. The health district hired two part-time nurses and relies on volunteers from the Medical Reserve Corps to help administer the vaccine.
Ansher, however, said entrepreneurs “are less familiar with public health [and] make it difficult to maintain essential services while responding to COVID-19. “
Wood added that she believed the district “would not have been able to meet the [COVID-19 pandemic]Even though the neighborhood was fully staffed. But the health district did not respond to questions about whether the district would have been better placed to respond to the crisis had it been fully staffed.
The Prince William Health District has also hired more than 100 contractors, most of whom work virtually, to help with COVID-19 contact tracing and investigations, according to Sean Morris, the district’s COVID-19 epidemiologist. But Morris said those positions are unrelated to filling existing vacancies in the health district.
Health district officials have consistently refused to answer questions directly about why the district has so many vacancies or the impact of those vacancies on their ability to effectively perform COVID-19 tests and vaccinations.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request in January, the district asked the Prince William time pay the district $ 1,770 for the 46 hours of work that they believe would be required to provide information on the number of vacancies, as well as general information on the district’s annual budget.
The district dropped the request for money when questions were limited to the number of vacancies.
Critique of the pandemic response
The health district has come under increased scrutiny from local officials and community members for its overdue vaccination rates, which are among the lowest in Northern Virginia. The district also fell behind on COVID-19 testing at the start of the pandemic, drawing criticism from elected officials and community members.
Prince William was chosen to receive an additional 2,400 doses of vaccine last week, administered by Walmart, due to the county’s low vaccination rates, according to Dr Danny Avula, who oversees Virginia’s vaccination efforts.
Over the past two months, members of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors have repeatedly asked Prince William Health District officials about the number of vaccine doses received and administered by the health district and the reasons for which the district lagged behind other localities.
Authorities said Prince William may have a lower vaccination rate because doses were initially distributed to hospitals and medical centers, and other towns in Northern Virginia have larger health systems and therefore have received more vaccines.
More recently, the health district’s vaccine distribution efforts have been hampered by difficulties in finding and maintaining vaccination sites. The Prince William Health District began administering the vaccine at Beacon Hall on the Manassas campus of George Mason University and Potomac Middle School in Woodbridge, but then had to shift gears when the GMU site was deemed too small and that the students at Potomac Middle School have returned to school.
In the past two weeks, the health district has opened a vaccination clinic at the Manassas shopping center as well as at the old Gander Mountain site near the Potomac factories. The latter was blocked for several weeks by negotiations. Due to a lack of staff, the health district cannot keep all three sites open at the same time, according to Sean Johnson, a contractor who was hired to help the health district during the vaccine rollout.
Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, said on Wednesday March 3, the day after a presentation by the health district to council, that the lack of information provided on vaccinations in the county had become a sore point for members. advice.
“Most of the time, the county watchdog is the last person to know what’s going on,” Candland said. “You can hear it to the frustration of many of us yesterday at the meeting.”