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Pinal County health board rejects $3.4M in vaccination equity funding

Members of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors also serve as the county's public health services board of directors.
Members of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors also serve as the county's public health services board of directors.
Arianna Grainey

Pinal County will not accept $3,387,435 from the federal government to hire a vaccine equity employee and distribute COVID-19 vaccines to underserved communities, the public health services board of directors decided recently.

The Pinal County Board of Supervisors, as the public health services board, voted 3-2 to not accept the funding, with Chairman Stephen Miller, District 3; and Vice Chairman Mike Goodman, District 2, dissenting.

“This position would fund a nurse presumably at about $65,000 and the other several million (dollars) would go to an as yet unnamed contractor and so we don’t know anything yet about the contractors, what the goals and purposes are except for the vaccine equity so I will make a motion if we’re ready for that, that we not approve item B on the public health agenda,” District 1 Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh said during the public health services board’s Sept. 1 meeting.

He and Supervisors Jeffrey McClure and Jeff Serdy, who represent districts 4 and 5, respectively, voted in favor of not receiving the funding.

Board discussion

Hiring a vaccine equity employee would be required as part of the grant, said Tascha Spears, Pinal County’s public health director, during the public health services board.

“This position is required in order to receive the $3 million, and we had anticipated filling that position with a public health nurse specifically because the position was designated to serve underserved communities. With respect to access, to resources, to access to COVID vaccines. So we anticipated that we could fill that position with a public health nurse who could also offer service delivery,” she said. “In Pinal County, there are some communities who are underserved who don’t have access to COVID-19 vaccines, so this is specifically to facilitate that so that communities everywhere truly do have a choice about whether they would like to receive the vaccine or not.”

It would be for people who are homeless, incarcerated or are in rural communities without a large pharmacy or other resources, Spears said.

Cavanaugh asked if county officials identified there was a problem before seeking the grant or did they seek the grant and look for a problem.

“The questions I’m getting from my constituents are ... everybody knows that there are free vaccines. Did we identify people through a survey or man-on-the-street interviews to determine we actually had a problem?” he said.

“So individually we did not send out a survey. The funds are made available to counties that have been determined to have a social vulnerability index of a certain value as identified by Census tracts,” Spears said. “And the ... social vulnerability index is identified federally and it’s identified based on 15 factors that kind of fall into four different categories — socioeconomic status, transportation availability, housing and a number of other criteria.”

Cavanaugh asked what a person hired in the new nurse position would do.

“We anticipated that our health equity coordinator, which was the requirement of the grant, would be fulfilled ... by a nurse simply because that person would manage this grant, would be able to determine and respond to areas of need as we’re getting called for those kinds of services for COVID vaccines as well as we thought we would want somebody in that position who could also provide service delivery,” Spears said.

“(I)f this person were able to provide service delivery I’d be more for it but the rules say specifically that this person cannot provide service,” Cavanaugh said.