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Public Health working on post-pandemic issues

By Anna Jauhola
Kittson County Public Health continues to strive for better communication and coverage throughout the county. Director Jeanna Kujava updated the county commissioners at their regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 21 on her department’s activities.
“One of the things that’s happened is to increase the capacity of our department,” Kujava said. “I applied for an AmeriCorps volunteer and Jacey (Spaeth) is that individual.”
Over the last few months, Spaeth has mostly worked remotely from Grand Forks to assist the Kittson County Public Health department as the public health project coordinator. She will serve a nine-month term and then she has the choice to renew her position here, move to a different assignment or find employment.
“She has already made some meaningful contributions,” Kujava said.
Spaeth has been working on social media communications, newspaper articles, created brochures and worked on a website presence.
“Communication is a foundational capability for public health, so she’s really serving and amplifying that role for us,” Kujava said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has officially ended, many agencies, including public health, are in the recovery phase – which looks different for everyone. The main area for public health has been mental health. To help mitigate that, Kujava partnered with Kittson Healthcare to bring in Katie Smith, a speaker who focused on mental health.
“Events of the pandemic have been a heavy load for healthcare providers,” she said. “And we offered a community opportunity to hear her.”
Kujava said public preparedness is also one of the hats she wears as the public health emergency preparedness coordinator. She sits on a few boards or groups to address suicide prevention, mental health and other societal issues. This ties in well with Kittson Healthcare’s community health needs assessment, she said, one major focus of which is mental health.
“There is still a need to improve and increase access to the services we have, the mental health services,” she said.
Kujava is also working with the Kittson Living at Home Program as the newly elected chairperson of the steering committee – specifically regarding transportation. Kittson County’s rural area and elderly population demand better transportation and support for seniors living here. She said they’re hoping to apply for a Living At Home Block Nursing Program grant to help build the group and solidify a better structure.
“It’s a slow process, but as you know, building partnerships in a rural, conservative area, you’re going to ask a lot of questions,” she said.
Finally, she reported on the opioid settlement money and the group working to establish how the county can best spend those funds. They held a drug take back event in September and had a booth at the fair in July. Otherwise, the group continues to meet and work to get input from across the county on how to “share the message of the impact of substance abuse” and how to “minimize it and prevent it for our youth.”
In other business, the board:
• Approved hiring Cassandra Gustafson as a part-time dispatcher/jailer. She has nine years of experience in the same position at Roseau County. She will start at $24.46 per hour.
• Approved hiring Jen Burton for the payroll services position. She has 15 years of experience handling payroll and was the only internal applicant for the position. She will start at $26.06 per hour.
• Approved to advertise internally for five days for Burton’s position in the driver’s license office, and if there are no applicants, approved for external advertising.
• Closed the regular meeting and convened as the drainage authority to approve an amendment to the county’s contract with H2Over Viewers to redetermine benefits for ditches throughout the county. The amendment added ditches 21 and 33. They closed the meeting and reconvened as the regular county board.
• Approved annual contracts for social services with Tri-Valley Transportation for bus rides in the county and with Alluma for mental health services.
• Approved signing a department of public safety grant for $19,348, which reimburses work done by the emergency manager.
• Approved a contract with Audacious Inquiry Inc. for e-notification for the social services department to notify them when clients are hospitalized. This is no cost to the county and is a multi-party agreement, including department of human services.
• Approved 2024 rate adjustments from Rinke Noonan, the county’s law firm specific to handling water and flooding issues.
The next regular meeting is set for Thursday, Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. This will also be the Truth in Taxation meeting, which begins at 6 p.m.

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