Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) arrived in the Hoosier state, the Montgomery County Health Department and its staff largely operated behind the scenes and away from the public eye.
But when the notion of a world-wide pandemic quickly became reality, the department and its efforts to combat the virus were pushed to the forefront of residents’ minds as they struggled to cope with the “new normal.”
The staff at MCHD has worked with school districts to keep students, teachers and their families safe, maintained the workplace as much as possible, erected testing sites and relayed vital information throughout. For these efforts, which left no resident untouched, the nomination of Administrator Amber Reed and MCHD has garnered the final award of the Journal Review’s annual Shining Star contest.
“In some ways, the pandemic has definitely taken its toll. We’re a small staff,” Reed said. “We work well together as a team, and being thrust into the spotlight has been good in some ways. I think a lot of people have learned more about what the health department’s responsibilities are and, by and large, realize that we won’t get through this alone.”
Reed and Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Scott Douglas have worked closely with officials across West Central Indiana to bring the city and surrounding areas through the pandemic in the midst of political upheaval, civil unrest, the age of misinformation and government distrust.
“In public health, we’re just kind of tasked to do what we need to do,” Reed said. “We’ve tried to respond in the appropriate manner, and with that obviously came a lot of work, so we’re very grateful that’s been seen.”
Montgomery County Deputy Health Officer Dr. John Roberts was brought on board in March when it was realized more help was needed. Douglas and Roberts, both practicing physicians highly involved in agencies throughout Montgomery County, have known one another since high school.
Together, the trio has been working around the clock to get the community thriving once more.
“I don’t think they sleep ... and they don’t seem to get shaken,” Reed said. “They’ve made a huge sacrifice, and that’s not gone unnoticed by us — at all.”
Though she was specifically nominated for the award, Reed stressed how crucial her staff has been and gives full credit for the county’s success to the sacrifices they have also had to make.
“I’ve never worked with a group of people who were so personally affected and so dedicated,” Reed said. “There has never been a thing I’ve asked of them that they haven’t said, ‘OK.’ And I don’t know that can be said everywhere.
“The collaboration, cooperation, sharing of resources and the way we’ve worked as a county since this started isn’t happening everywhere,” she explained. “At one point we were the only blue county left in the state, and that was big. For us, it was something to celebrate at the time because we were doing things right. But the spread has continued, and that’s been difficult.”
Many county-wide decisions have come down to Douglas and Roberts as health officers. They also deflected all credit to their co-workers.
“I feel very fortunate to have worked with these dedicated individuals,” Douglas added. “Reed and the staff of the health department shifted from their daily work in March to managing the serious consequences of a rapidly growing pandemic with professionalism and without complaint.”
And now, as a vaccine for the coronavirus slowly makes its way into Montgomery County, Reed said the department will move forward with a cautious optimism.
“I know there’s always fear with something new and unknown, and I think we just need to focus on the fact that with the vaccine comes hope,” Reed said. “I’m like everybody else [and] my family is tired of hearing the message. We’re looking for some relief and a reprieve and something that feels normal. I’m hoping that as we come out of this winter season we will have something to celebrate a little bit with the new year.”
The health department relocated earlier this month from the county’s South Boulevard office to 308 W. Market St. Those with questions concerning COVID-19 may call 765-364-6440. More information can also be found at www.montgomerycounty.in.gov.