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Tompkins County Holds Virtual COVID-19 Update, Discussion on Community Needs Through Human Services

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Tompkins County Holds Virtual COVID-19 Update, Discussion on Community Needs Through Human Services

Friday, August 28, 2020

Tompkins County held a virtual COVID-19 update Thursday on meeting community needs through human services. County department leaders shared information about ongoing needs that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and what their departments and community partners are doing to address those needs.

Tompkins County Legislature Chairwoman Leslyn McBean-Clairborne opened the update by reflecting on the loss and impact of long-time community leader Kirby Edmonds, and asked for a moment of silence. She described Edmonds as a dear friend and community leader, stating, “Kirby took a strong stance on education, training, and holding people accountable to the issues of diversity and inclusion. For all of us in this community it will be a tremendous loss to not have Kirby around. Even if you did not know Kirby, I’m sure there’s something that he did that impacted you.”

Following a recent letter from Public Health Director Frank Kruppa calling on the community to broaden our public health response, County department leaders joined the town hall to remark on services offered by their departments and by local partner agencies. Kate Shanks Booth, Director of the Tompkins County Youth Services Department, and Lisa Monroe, Director of Tompkins County’s Office for the Aging, shared how the populations they serve have been impacted by COVID-19 and what is being done to address their needs.

In reference to his letter, Kruppa stated, “The idea of prevention is core to public health; the whole purpose of our COVID response has been to prevent the spread. When we talk about public health it’s broader than just going to the doctor or the hospital — everything from having a safe place to lay your head at night to having nutritious food available to you is a part of it.” Kruppa continued, “COVID-19 has exacerbated the issues that preexisted COVID-19, bringing many people closer to crisis.

Kruppa encouraged the community to visit the Health Department website to view the Community Health Assessment and Community Health Improvement Plan, which outline information on the health status and needs of the community and a community-informed agenda to address Tompkins County’s health priorities.

Ongoing community needs referenced by panelists included access to childcare, general support for basic needs, mental health care, and remote access to services.

Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino moderated the conversation. “Our departments and partners have shown adaptation and flexibility to make sure their clients are served in the best way possible, and meet people where they are and adapt to the world that we’re now in,” stated Molino.

Shanks-Booth added that “in addressing the physical and emotional health of kids as they return to school, providers are discussing “how can we be ready for that” .... it’s a moving target; providers are trying to find all the options available to provide wraparound services.” Some of the partner agencies addressing needs for children include the Child Development Council and Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Rural Youth Services program.

Regarding aging adults Monroe commented, “People have identified they’ve been alone and are in need of different things they may not have accepted before; we’ve seen increased calls from caregivers with concerns.” She shared that “Our office is the point of entry, a no wrong door hub of information and assistance to addressing people’s needs as they are aging.” Monroe spoke about valuable community partnerships with organizations like Foodnet Meals on Wheels and Lifelong that help older adults in need and work closely with the Office for the Aging.

Kruppa, speaking from his Mental Health Commissioner perspective, stated that “our biggest challenge was transitioning to a more virtual way of providing services (by phone or video conference). For some folks that’s been a godsend; we’ve seen increased participation, more engagement, and we’ve found a new mode that really engages them. But for others it’s created a barrier.” For those with barriers to telehealth services, "we've got work to do," Kruppa added, such as finding ways to engage youth and other groups in immediate need of remote mental health care.

Regarding the spread of COVID-19, Kruppa explained, “The disease prevalence is low, even with thousands of people returning to our community with the reactivation of campuses here. There is so much testing happening as those folks return. To have this few cases identified is amazing. I’m very happy that this is what we’ve seen so far. We’re not out of the woods yet … we have to keep pushing through the fall and continue to modify our behavior so we don’t have additional spread. We are hoping to continue on that good path.”

Wrapping up the conversation, McBean-Clairborne said, “Reimagining public health is bigger than just not getting sick — it’s social justice, it’s eliminating inequities, it’s going out of our way to do something we’ve never done before.”

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About the Tompkins County Heath Department

The Tompkins County Health Department strives to achieve a healthy community by protecting and promoting public health through education, training, advocacy, and the provision of services.  Services include infectious and communicable disease monitoring and prevention, childhood immunizations, maternal health support, environmental health maternal, infant, and child nutrition programming, early intervention, preschool special education, vital records,  household health and safety, and health promotion. For more information, see their website.

The Health Department has been the primary response agency for COVID-19 in Tompkins County.

About the Tompkins County Youth Services Department

The Tompkins County Youth Services Department invests time, resources, and funding in communities to enable all youth to thrive in school, work, and life. The department works with not-for-profit agencies that run programs for children, youth, and families and helps the local volunteers appointed by municipal governments who are responsible for planning and providing youth programs in every community within Tompkins County. For more information, view their department brochure.
Annually, approximately 8,000 youth receive services through Youth Services funded programs.

About the Tompkins County Office for the Aging

The Tompkins County Office for the Aging (COFA) is the community’s point of entry into aging services in Tompkins County. Established in 1975, COFA provides objective and unbiased information regarding the array of services available for older adults and their caregivers. Its mission is to assist older adults and persons with long-term care needs to live independently in their homes and communities with quality of life and dignity.  For more information, visit their website.