Out of the $38.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds going to the village of Oak Park, $40,000 will go toward compensation of registered nurse Cassidy Olson. The village board voted unanimously Dec. 6 to approve the resolution to hire Olson for the nursing position for a period of one year.

The resolution was brought forward to the board during its last meeting of the year to allow the village to continue COVID-19 response services into 2022, according to Interim Village Manager Lisa Shelley. The employment agreement begins Jan. 1 and expires Dec. 31, 2022.

Olson’s duties will primarily consist of assisting the Oak Park Public Health Department with vaccinations, particularly on weekends, as the village’s other hired full-time registered nurses work weekdays and evenings.

Village President Vicki Scaman acknowledged Olson, who was not present at the meeting, for taking the position.

“Thank you to Cassidy for taking this role on,” she said. “I know the other nurses are quite exhausted.”

The temporary nursing position may not be the only new addition to the Oak Park Public Health Department. The village board also voted unanimously to approve the submission of grant applications for the purpose of hiring three other temporary positions: an epidemiologist focused chiefly on COVID-19 and two “public health fellows.”

The epidemiologist would be compensated in a not-to-exceed amount of $115,678 for a period of one year through the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Cooperative Public Health Grant, if it is awarded to the village of Oak Park.

“That is a position that we sorely need,” Public Health Director Theresa Chapple-McGruder told the board.

The two “public health fellows” would be funded through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE), supplemented by $12,000 in ARPA funds. The fellows would work with the village for two years.

“It is a competitive process; the fellows are not guaranteed,” Shelley said.

If the village of Oak Park should be assigned either one fellow or the requested two, $12,000 in ARPA funds would be needed cover the costs of sending the fellows back and forth to the CDC over the two-year period.

The fellows spend a year with the CDC, undergoing public health training. Following training, they are assigned to state and local health departments to assist in special projects and staffing, according to Chapple-McGruder, who said the Oak Park Public Health Department is only about 50 percent staffed.

“Our health department is right now extremely understaffed,” said Chapple-McGruder.

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