According to a Sacramento County Grand Jury investigation report released on Monday, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors was found to have given no support or oversight, including requests for assistance, to the Board of Public Health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The report notes that the Board of Supervisors ignored Sacramento County Office of Public Health (OPH) and Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye for five months. The Board also did not request any updates about Public Health between March and August of 2020. With the Board of Supervisors effectively not bothering to do anything with County Public Health, both Kasirye and the OPH were responsible for “safeguarding county residents through enforcement of COVID-19 public health orders.”
Even with CARES Act money coming in to help fight the pandemic in Sacramento County, the grand jury found that the Board of Supervisors and then-county executive Nav Gill did nothing with the money for three months in the middle of the summer 2020 surge of COVID-19. With requests for money ignored, the Public Health Board had to go through county budget allocation channels, greatly delaying the release of funds to help fight the new surge in the virus.
The report specifically reported, “The Board’s apathy during the most significant public health emergency in over a century, one that impacted every resident of Sacramento County, delayed needed OPH program funding and undercut public health order enforcement.”
Grand Jury members who spoke on Monday hammered that point home in press statements.
“The Grand Jury is dumbfounded that the County Board of Supervisors seemed completely disconnected from the Office of Public Health in the midst of the crisis our community faced,” Jury Foreperson Deanna Hanson said in a statement Monday. “It is simply irresponsible to think that Sacramento will never face another situation that needs immediate attention. The burden and responsibility for safeguarding county residents through enforcement of COVID-19 public health orders were almost entirely borne by the County Public Health Officer and the Office of Public Health.”
In addition to a previous Grand Jury report in February that found that over $100 million of the $181 in federal COVID-19 aid went to the Sheriff’s Department instead of Public Health, Monday’s report found that staffing at Public Health was very low with funding not reaching them. Even with low funds, the Public Health agency still managed to meet the safety and health demands on the public by bringing in hundreds of medical reserve corps volunteers and by boosting overtime hours by 20-30 each week. Still, despite the creative solutions to fill needs in everything from contact tracing to running COVID-19 testing sites, the lack of investment was found by the Grand Jury presented significant challenges in trying to meet public, federal, and state demand.
The second Grand Jury Report on Sacramento County during the early days of COVID-19 in two months
“Basically, the money that Public Health needed was not coming in and was pushed to other areas,” Aimee Monroe, a Folsom volunteer who assisted during the early days of the Pandemic in 2020, told the Globe on Monday. “The Board of Supervisors was also telling everyone nothing on where to go and wasn’t even bothering to see what was happing with Public Health. With money and support just not happening, and COVID becoming more and more of a problem, a lot of creative solutions, including bringing up volunteers, had to be brought into place to help meet the crisis. Against all odds they did it, and if you look at the Grand Jury report, it specifically says that the OPH responded with efficiency and effectiveness despite no help coming from the Board if Supervisors.”
“On one hand, it makes you proud to have people like that helping avert disaster working behind the scenes. But on the other hand, it gives a look into how close it was to all falling down. They really needed that money. They really needed some backing up. They didn’t get it and somehow did the job anyway.”
While the report notes that despite the Board of Supervisors finally acting in August 2020 after a funding request from Dr. Kasirye was finally met, the Board continued to show ongoing “executive disinterest.” This included not implementing a request for civil penalties to be given to those not complying with Public Health orders in December 2020.
The Grand Jury recommended on Monday that to help alleviate some of the issues in the report, Sacramento County should come up with a response plan for emergencies to help “recognize and meet the immediate requirements of the public health department to implement future public health orders to best ensure the safety of Sacramento County residents.”
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors have yet to respond to the Grand Jury report as of Monday afternoon.