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Health Department tries to rebound from services canceled by the coronavirus

News Photo by Crystal Nelson John Lawrence, owner of Take 5 Deli, on Thursday puts a couple of sandwiches in a basket at the deli in downtown Alpena. Restaurant inspections are one of the services canceled during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic.

ALPENA — District Health Department No. 4 staff are working to catch up on services postponed during the height of the coronavirus outbreak this spring as the department’s board begins to work on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Health Department started this year planning to bring in a little more than $4.2 million in revenue and spend about $4.1 million, according to the department’s budget, roughly the same as in 2019. The Health Department ended 2019 with $472,573 in its fund balance after using about $133,000 to cover a gap between revenue and expenses.

Health Department officials have expressed concern about revenues lost when many of its services were suspended after Whitmer ordered Michiganders to stay home unless absolutely necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Suspended were immunizations and inspections of restaurants, pools, and campgrounds, among other services.

Tens of thousands of dollars in state and federal money meant to help fight the virus have helped the department’s bottom line, but the department still is pinching pennies.

“In the beginning, we didn’t get any COVID funding, so we didn’t know how things were going to go,” department Deputy Health Officer Judy Greer said. “But, with COVID funding, we still watch every penny we spend. We still monitor. We are not doing any excessive purchasing. We’re buying what we need to run our programs.”

Greer said the department will not recover all of the revenue lost during the shutdown, but they have reopened all programs and are now bringing in money again. Staff are now working to schedule patient appointments, immunizations, and inspections.

Business picked up for the Health Department’s Environmental Services Department, which performs inspections, in May. Director Kevin Prevost told the board in July that, as challenging as the year has been, business owners have nearly submitted all of their fees.

He said at that time that pools and campground fees were 100% paid and 85% of the food service fees were paid.

Two new employees have been added to Environmental Services, allowing the department to conduct more inspections and issue more permits. A new sanitarian was hired for the Montmorency County office, and a second sanitarian, who also specializes in foodborne illness, was hired for the department’s Cheboygan office.

One of the main areas of focus has been to reschedule immunizations for both children and adults who may not have received them during the shut down.

Health Officer Denise Bryan, head of the department, said she would like to see immunization rates pick back up, as people were not going to doctors while they were sequestered at home over the spring and summer.

“That would be a goal that needs more attention,” she said.

Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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