[Editor's Note: This article, part 2 of a multi-article series, reports the presentation from the Grant County Community Health Council.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

The second report of the Grant County Commission work session of June 22, 2021, featured three representatives, Jeff Fell, Terry Anderson and Steve Chavira. The three were heavily involved with the Health Council efforts on Covid. Jeff Fell attended on Zoom, because he was attending a 4-H event in T or C, where his son had qualified for rifle shooting competition. He said if anything good had come out of the pandemic, "maybe it's the use of these virtual platforms."

He reported on the Summer Covid Vaccination and Safety Event, held on June 5 in Gough Park. "We had 12 local organizations represented, giving out things to the kids, as well as information. The local Department of Health and the National Guard gave out 45 doses, 37 of which were their first and 8 were the second. Overall, the event was a great success. I want to thank the volunteers and everybody who helped out that day. Lastly, I want to give an update on where Grant County stands on the vaccinations. We're all aware of the governor lifting restrictions soon. On the state website I see two different numbers for Grant County fully vaccinated, one at 58.4 percent and one at 59.8 percent. However, I haven't seen those numbers change on the state website since last week, so I'm confident our numbers are higher than that. I just haven't seen confirmation. About three weeks ago, the DOH here made the decision to shut down their drive-through vaccination events, because HMS has their Covid clinic set up across from the hospital. And so, we've just decided since that clinic is open 8 hours five days a week, we would send people there. However, with the big push the governor sent out last week, the public health office decided to do an impromptu vaccination clinic on Wednesday and 49 or 50 people showed up. It wasn't scheduled, they just decided to hold it and make them available. HMS's clinic was busy last week, too. They had 202 people come in for vaccines and Silver Health Care gave out 40. So, as a community, just last week alone, close to 300 vaccines were given with the monetary incentives. I just want to thank all those who have helped those three facilities with the vaccine, working basically non-stop since last December when we started the vaccine push. Their work is to be commended."

Anderson spoke on behalf of the Community Partnership for Children and the Grant County Health Council.

She said the Community Partnership for Children has built a network of partnerships to support early childhood education throughout Grant County serving children from age 0 to age 5, plus some school-aged children, who are part of the LINKS program of learning for kids. The vision of the group is so that families in Grant County will have access to diverse, affordable, and high-quality options for early childhood care and education. Research shows that early education is the most affordable for long-term positive results. The Health Council supports the early childhood education and understands the impact on economic development. "On behalf of the Partnership and the Health Council, we are requesting that commissioners prioritize early childhood care and education to support the building of childcare and to address economic development through support and financial support. We need to keep families working. We need to recognize that childcare providers are first responders. Western New Mexico University has developed programs and mentorships for early childhood educators, so we partner with them to grow the early childhood workforce. We need to open new businesses providing early childhood care to fill the gap in needed services. The Early Childhood Education Department offers support and will offer funding in the next year. The challenge is the knowledge to apply for that funding. The work of the Partnership is to link the state, regional and local entities to the network striving to support the effort, so there are no childhood care closures, because our economies won't survive without supporting our childcare providers. We are in a time of opportunity and options, but we have to have everyone behind us."

Chavira presented on behalf of the Health Council on the activities around Independence Day. "Members of the Health Council have been on the planning committee with me. As you know, the state lifting restrictions is welcoming, because up to now, we didn't know what was happening. The plan was to bring an almost traditional event back to the community. Our initial goal was not to be in the park, but as we worked with our local partners, we found our plan was not going to be safe. So, we are going back to the park for what we're calling our "Freedom Festival; we will have our parade; we will have vendors in the park, but for all of it we want to make sure we maintain a safe environment. We expect you to respect those who mask and if someone asks you to mask, we hope you respect that, too. It's outdoors and lots of fresh air. We have had positive comments from people that we are having the event. Come out on July 3 from 10 a.m. for the parade. We will have a flag raising with all color guards at 9 a.m."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked Anderson for something more specific. Anderson said: "We have known for years that we are lacking infant and toddler care and we are lacking year-round care programs, as well as the after-school programs. Our three-year-olds and four-year-olds are taken care of pretty well in the community. When you run a program, you need the three- and four-year-olds for your budget, but we need care for all age levels in the programming. Several years ago, we had 14 licensed childcare homes; now we have four. With Covid and with what has happened, some want to stay home with their kids. This is an opportunity to get some people to open up businesses in their homes to stay home with their kids and take in two or three more and make some money. Our regulations are quite stringent, but we know them backward and forward and we can handhold them through the processes. We need to make sure all programs are viable and staying open. We need more childcare year-round for working families."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said he had the same question and thanked Anderson for her many years supporting early childhood education.

"I don't do well with the word retirement," Anderson laughed. "But as I've learned during this journey, you can't do this alone. We are passionate about it, so we are asking you to make it one of your priorities going forward. If there are any dollars from the dollars coming in, we could use some of those, too."

The next presentation will be the SunZia transmission line update with John Strand.