Lawrence officials propose mobile COVID-19 vaccine unit purchase for county

Cantrell

Lawrence County officials hope to use COVID-19 relief funds to purchase a mobile vaccination unit for the county’s Emergency Management Agency and for additional emergency medical equipment for each of Lawrence County’s volunteer fire departments.

The county is eligible for up to $400,000 through a Community Development Block Grant, with CV Program funds authorized under the CARES Act as long as projects for the funds meet specific criteria, according to Robby Cantrell, the executive director of the North Central Alabama Regional Council of Governments (NARCOG). 

Awarded funds are granted as long as proposed projects are expected to impact at least 50% of the county’s low- or moderate-income population, and the project must demonstrate that it meets an urgent need, Cantrell told attendants to a public hearing held at the Commission Office in Moulton on Tuesday.

“This is not a competitive grant,” he said. “Up to $400,000 has been allotted to Lawrence County, and there is no match required.”

Before funds are distributed, the Lawrence County Commission must submit a CDBG application outlining the proposed projects and showing an agreement between the county, Lawrence EMA, and at least four of the county’s five municipalities. 

The proposed plan would see a Ford F250 pick-up truck and an enclosed MGD aluminum trailer purchased for the EMA department to use as a COVID-19 vaccination mobile unit. 

EMA Director Chris Waldrep said the mobile unit will also be utilized for future emergencies throughout the county, and listed natural or weather disasters, flu-shot distribution, and future COVID-19 testing as other examples. 

The truck and unit are projected to cost $162,000. Waldrep told commissioners his department would be able to purchase the unit, staff and equip it “fairly quickly” once funds are approved and distributed. 

According to the county’s plan, local volunteer fire departments would see at least $118,000 of the CDBG funding for emergency medical equipment including automated chest compression systems and defibrillators. 

Each of the county’s 10 volunteer departments would receive 10 Defibtech Lifeline ARM Chest Compression Systems, which allow first responders to perform CPR mechanically, according to Commissioner Chair Kyle Pankey, who also operates an ambulance for Lawrence County’s ambulance service.

“The machine is capable of keeping the same depth and rhythm for long periods of time without tiring out. It is capable of performing CPR on a patient as they are being carried by emergency personnel. This is life-saving technology,” Pankey said. “If it saves one life, it is well worth $100,000.”

Cantrell said the equipment will help first responders maintain a safe distance from possible COVID-19 patients while also administering CPR. 

In addition to the CPR units and accessories, each department is expected to receive 20 Zoll AED Plus Defibrillator units with accessories. 

“This equipment is invaluable to these responders,” Cantrell said. “Most volunteer departments cannot afford to purchase things like this on their own.”

The project also proposes $88,000 be used to assist the Alabama Department of Public Health in creating remote coronavirus testing or vaccination sites in Lawrence County, and for hiring additional temporary nursing staff at the Lawrence County Health Department to administer vaccines. 

The funds will cover assistance to the Health Department for up to six months, as outlined in a request by ADPH Area Administrator Judy Smith in January. 

“The most crucial period will come in the next few months as more vaccine supplies become available,” Cantrell said. 

The proposed spending and a 5% grant administration cost incurred by NARCOG totals an estimated $387,370, according to Cantrell. 

Lawrence County Administrator Heather Dyar-Rose suggested the remaining funds, approximately $12,600, be split between the Health Department, EMA and each of the fire departments and used for additional COVID-19 health and safety supplies. 

“There are not many things that qualify (for the funding),” District 4 Commissioner Bobby Burch said. “The EMA truck and trailer can be used for years to come, and this much needed equipment for our fire departments are greatly needed.”

Cantrell said the grant application must be submitted by April 1, but with county and municipality agreements, the application could be sent and processed earlier. He said funds to the county departments will be distributed to the approved areas as soon as they are received. 

NARCOG will meet with mayors of Moulton, Courtland, North Courtland, Town Creek and Hillsboro, and must receive approval from at least four before the proposal is submitted. 

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