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Onondaga County Could See More Public Health Staff Thanks To COVID-Inspired State Program

WAER Gupta
Scott Willis
Dr. Indu Gupta speaks at a committee meeting of the Onondaga County Legislature, Sept. 28, 2021.

The Onondaga County Health Department needs help.

County Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta said the COVID-19 pandemic overstretched the agency's resources that had already suffered hits from previous years of budget cuts.

"My staff, I mean I cannot say enough about how they have been working tirelessly and it's exhausting," Gupta said. "It is exhausting and a bunch of people have exited,."

While currently there's concern over hospital staffing levels as the state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate pushes some workers to leave their jobs, the COVID pandemic has also revealed workforce challenges in the public health arena. The New York State Public Health Corps Fellowship Program is looking to fill these gaps at local health departments by bringing on 1,000 fellows with a background or interest in public health.

The Onondaga County Legislature next week is set to approve nearly $6 million in state funding to support the program over the next two years. A committee on Tuesday heard comments from Gupta in support of the initiative.

Committee agenda documents show the dollars would support up to 38 fellows each of the two years at the health department. Gupta said that could provide much-needed support to the agency's core staff.

"At this point the fellows can help increase that workforce temporarily and hopefully will help to support those initiatives that we have not been able to in the past," she said.

Fellows will help with COVID response, and preparation for the next public health emergency, according to the state's website, but Gupta said there are plenty of other programs in Onondaga County that need extra support.

"If they are needed in the COVID program we certainly can add that, but it could be for our opioid program. It could be for cancer services program, so that could be COVID or non-COVID," she said.

Those eligible should apply directly on the state's website. Selected participants will earn a public health certificate from Cornell University during their time as a fellow.