SOUTHERN COLORADO — Public health workers have been nothing short of heroes since the pandemic began, and this week is a time to recognize their work because it's National Public Health week.
The past year has been far from easy for them. No one expected that they'd turn into emergency response teams, and have to organizing opening COVID-19 vaccine clinic in El Paso County and Pueblo.
Their jobs have changed so much yet they continue to work hard to make sure our community stays safe and informed. KOAA News5 spoke to a few local healthcare workers about their experience during the past year, and morale moving forward.
"The past year has been high tempo. We've been doing everything from initiating the response when the pandemic hit, to planning for the vaccine operations," said Janel McNair, for El Paso County Public Health.
McNair has been an emergency preparedness and response coordinator for the department for five years.
"It's very rewarding to serve in a position every day that's making a difference, and that right now is literally saving lives. It feels good inside and it definitely makes the tough, long days meaningful," said McNair. "I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel, so we want to keep pushing forward and looking forward to the day when the pandemic is over."
"To be honest, it can be exhausting, because there was so much weight put on you and being able to keep the community safe," said Alexis Romero Stewart, a health promotions specialist with the Pueblo City-County Health Department. "I usually work a lot with face to face individuals and being able to collaborate with kind of boots on the ground, being in the community, but it's been a really fulfilling experience because people get into public health to make people's lives better and healthier, and although it's difficult sometimes, this week is a week to highlight that public health is a crucial part of our community."
Spiris also remain high, as many believe the COVID vaccine is another tool in the toolbox to work toward normalcy.
"People are excited for it. They're ready for it, and really wanting to move forward and just start rebuilding," said Romero Stewart.
"I would say the morale is high, everyone has found resiliency and supports one another. It's a very positive culture in our department and we have some great leadership that keeps us motivated to make a difference in the community." said Jordan Linder, a grant coordinator with El Paso County Public Health.
The health departments in Pueblo and El Paso County have grown since the pandemic began. Three years ago, there were fewer than 100 employees working for the Pueblo City-County Health Department. That's grown to about 150 employees full time and part time.
In El Paso County, there are about 160 full-time employees, but they brought in about 50 contracted employees to help during the pandemic.