New county public health positions to be considered by legislators

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The Cortland County Legislature will move forward with the creation of four public health fellow positions and one public health fellow coordinator position for the county’s health department.

This move comes after legislators in the county’s Health and Human Services Committee approved a resolution by a 4-3 vote on Tuesday to receive funding from an affiliate of the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). The resolution awaits further approval from the county’s Finance and Administration Committee, and the Legislature.

The funding comes from a New York State Public Health Corps (NYSPHC) grant provided by Health Research, Incorporated (HRI). HRI is a not-for-profit corporation affiliated with NYSDOH.

The NYSPHC program was started during the former Gov. Andrew Cuomo administration. The program aims to address staffing shortages at local public health departments in the age of COVID-19, according to Cortland County Health Department Public Health Director Nicole Anjeski. 

Through the program, Cortland County will be awarded $849,912 to create five temporary positions. The four public health fellow positions will have an hourly rate range between $22.4261 and $28.2445 per hour, with benefits. Employment for these positions will expire on July 31, 2023. 

The coordinator position will also end at the end of July 2023. It will have an hourly rate range between $27.7991 and $35.0115 per hour.

As described in the resolution, the county health department will use the pool of state funds to “recruit, train, deploy and manage NYSPHC fellows in order to augment local health department capacity to respond to current and emerging public health emergencies, to provide health education services, to inform and protect communities, improve outreach and assistance to vulnerable populations, and to directly assist with the local COVID-19 public health response.”

Per program guidelines, hiring for local health departments started back in September of last year.

“We almost haven’t used the first year (program) and the program only goes until 2023,” Anjeski said. “Applicants to the program have to take a specific course through Cornell University and apply through the state.”

Anjeski noted the initial projections from state officials estimated the program would get approximately 1,000 applicants, but ultimately fell short of that figure.

“This is only temporary. We will not hire these folks full time (beyond 2023),” she said. “We haven’t heard too much about this program (from the current administration) with all the increase in (positive COVID-19) cases, but they haven’t taken the funding away.”

Potential applicants who submitted their paperwork to the state back in 2021 may now be unavailable. This is due to the program technically running for four months, Anjeski said. 

“We are not sure how many applicants are still left in the pool and (the state) wants us to hire specifically from that pool,” she said. “We also have to train these folks, so they don’t necessarily train for our department. It is an added burden to the health department, but this is what the state wants us to do.”

According to the resolution voted on by the committee, the county health department expects to use $5,000 from the grant funding for training and education. 

Through the program, those interested in applying select the county they would like to work in, ranking their choices by preference. Anjeski said during the fall season last year there was a 10-applicant pool who had Cortland County in consideration. 

“But only a few selected Cortland County as their number one preference,” she added. “We had people who had Cortland as their number three or four choice. I think it is going to be hard to hire anyway because it is a temporary position.”

The educational requirements for applicants are lofty, Anjeski said.

“The grant requires us to hire a graduate-level candidate as well. I personally don’t see a graduate-level person coming for a temporary position here unless they have other plans that line up with the position,” she said. “We have a hard enough time hiring the staff we need now as it is.” 

County Legislative chair Kevin Fitch (R-LD 8) noted the program features difficult hurdles to overcome.

“It’s just really complicated that they have the program, but they put these big requirements there,” he said. “This could have been a program to assist people to get into the profession.”