The Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department has experienced more than its share of work recently, and they presented two bills to the Wayne County Commissioners on Tuesday for their share of the costs.
The bills, totaling $27,373.87, were for work the health department has been doing in relation to an outbreak of a rare strain of tuberculosis that occurred in their four-county coverage area between April and October of 2014. One bill, in the amount of $15,432.87, covered 2014 expenses incurred by the health department, while the remaining $11,941 is for 2015 expenses, although that total is incomplete and could be higher once all of the bills are finalized.
Deb Scholten, chief executive officer of the NNPHD, said her department was kept busier than usual with three significant events over a two-year period, including the 2013 and 2014 tornadoes and an outbreak of Avian Flu in Wayne and Dixon counties in May of 2015.
“We had five disasters in less than two years time, so we experienced more than most local health departments experience in a lifetime,” she told the board.
The tuberculosis case, which started in April of 2014, involved a rare strain of the disease called mycobacteriumbovis – which is normally found in cattle – and required keeping the patient in isolation for 12 weeks.
“It’s unusual to have someone in isolation that long,” she told the board.
The patient was on special medication for some time and was not responding to the medications, which made the extended isolation necessary. Additional testing of 12 people who had contact with the individual discovered five more positive tests for tuberculosis shortly before the tornadoes hit in Wayne, Cedar and Dixon counties in the summer of 2014, which spread the department’s staff pretty thin, Scholten said.
The rare strain of the virus was eventually traced back 50 years by the Centers for Disease Control, and soon after the first case came out of isolation, a second case was discovered. Testing of 100 people who had contact with that individual led to 27 more people testing positive, with a couple testing active.
“That was really frightening,” she said. “We were able to contain it, but it required months and months of work. It could have been a lot worse if the individual had left the area. More people could have been exposed.”
Board chair Randy Larson took the bills and said he would consult with County Attorney Mike Pieper, who said that state statutes are in place to dictate exactly what part of the invoices the county will ultimately be responsible for.
The board heard two separate presentations at Tuesday’s meeting regarding the county’s employee health insurance plan, which is up for renewal this fall.
Steve Muir with Elkhorn Valley Insurance told the board that the county’s employees have generally been good about working with medical professionals within the network of the current policy, which has helped keep costs down.
The board looked at three plans presented by Muir, all of which consist of significant increases, which Muir said the county has been lucky to avoid in previous years.
“There have been good and bad years, and you’ve had some pretty good years lately,” he said. “I’ve seen groups go years with no real big issues and then have a bad year, and it’s usually about once every five years.”
Judd Allen and Dennis Magart of NACO Benefit Services also presented several possible plans to the county, and the board decided they would recess Tuesday’s meeting and reconvene on Tuesday, Aug. 9 at 8:30 a.m. to continue discussion on the topic.
Currently, the county pays 100 percent of employees health insurance, but Larson said a number of counties are now asking their employees to pay a share of their health insurance premiums, and it may not be long before Wayne County has to follow suit.
“The economy is going to force us to do something eventually,” he said. “Everybody is scratching and trying to find ways to make health insurance work.”
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