Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake came to Kenosha County with a simple message: “Thank you.”
The visit on Thursday, May 19, was the latest stop in a statewide tour that Timberlake is making to express appreciation to public health staff and health care workers for the work they have done and continue to do in response to COVID-19.
“We held an appreciation event at the Kenosha County Center in Bristol to recognize the resilient work of local partners in providing direct service to their community’s most vulnerable and disproportionately impacted populations,” Timberlake said. “The event highlighted the incredible work local public health organizations and Vaccine Community Outreach grantees have done, and continue to do. From the Health Equity Task Force to Kenosha County’s Human Services on the Go mobile unit, these teams truly mobilized their COVID-19 responses throughout Kenosha, Racine, Walworth, and Rock Counties.”
Joining Timberlake as speakers at the event at were Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Deb Standridge, Kenosha County Health Officer Jen Freiheit, Kenosha County Division of Aging, Disability and Behavioral Health Services Director Rebecca Dutter and Tamarra Coleman, chairwoman of Kenosha County’s Health Equity Task Force.
Freiheit gave high praise to the Kenosha County Public Health team, as well as the many community partners whose involvement shaped the COVID-19 response.
“I have never worked in a community where the community partners all just showed up,” said Freiheit, who began working in Kenosha County just months before the pandemic began. “They might not agree, but they come together, and they’ve worked with us on several different scenarios of how we can improve the community. It’s really beautiful; it’s really amazing.”
Freiheit said it became apparent early in the pandemic that mobility would be a response issue.
When stakeholders realized early on in the pandemic that there were people in isolation who didn’t have access to masks and thermometers, Kenosha County Public Health staff delivered hundreds of them to porches all over the county, she said.
Later, when it became clear that not everyone would come out to vaccination clinics, mobile vaccination missions were launched to get education and shots out into the community, particularly where vaccine access was lower and hesitancy was higher.
That work, conducted in a partnership between Kenosha County Public Health and the Health Equity Task Force, begat the next level of mobility — the Kenosha County Human Services on the Go program, which brought vaccination and other relevant services on a bus out to targeted neighborhoods last summer.
Human Services on the Go will resume this summer, said Dutter, whose division is overseeing the effort.
Timberlake praised these initiatives.
“The work they put in going door-to-door to confront harmful misinformation and make available much-needed services has built a foundation for a new model of public health going forward,” Timberlake said. “These tools will only serve to create healthier communities all around.”