Nicollet County Vaccine Team

About 15 regular Nicollet County Health and Human Services staff members have been helping to vaccinate residents through small clinics. (File photo/

After learning on the fly during a global pandemic the last 16 months, the Nicollet County Health and Human Services Department wants to make itself, and other local agencies, more prepared than ever for the future.

The department got permission from the Board of Commissioners Aug. 23 to apply for a $120,000 federal CDC grant to “strengthen and build our regional public health and health care workforce for emergency prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.” Nicollet County would be the lead agency, coordinating efforts with the South Central Healthcare Coalition (10-county region) to provide training across public health, hospitals, EMS and more.

“It’s really for COVID preparedness, response and recovery initiatives, but it’s also long-term, as it pertains to emergency management needs,” Health and Human Services Director Cassandra Sassenberg. “We feel pretty strongly about making sure this training is available to everybody.”

Sassenberg noted that she was new to her role not long before the pandemic started and Public Health Coordinator Bree Allen was also new. Their jobs almost completely changed at the onset of the pandemic; they had a tremendous amount to learn in a small amount of time.

“It might’ve been easier — and I can only speak for us at Nicollet County — but it might’ve been easier to get things just up and running much more quickly (with more training ahead of time),” Sassenberg said. “I think we responded quickly, but we had a lot to learn. There was a lot of informal training internally, whereas a more formal training would allow us to know all the guidelines and really define our roles.”

The Nicollet County team doesn’t know exactly how the dollars went, as it only just got permission to go for the grant, and the South Central coalition will ultimately decide. Sassenberg expects, though, that it would be used to bring in outside organizations for training.

“I think the majority of the funding would be specifically for regional initiatives … the trainings would be centered on building our incident command structure and capacity,” she said. “Through the pandemic, it’s been clear to see the efforts made across the system — hospitals, EMS, public health all working together.”

She said it’s crucial that all these different moving parts can come together cohesively for rapid and reliable response.

“We all have the same goal of keeping people safe and providing services to our region, so being on the same page and knowing how to best communicate with each other is something that grew and strengthened during the pandemic, but we’re all from our own sectors, so being able to pull that all together and map it out goes a long way,” she said. “During the pandemic, we’ve been able to make relationships within our community very quickly in working together, so this is an opportunity to strengthen that.”

Reach Editor Philip Weyhe at 507-931-8579 or follow him on Twitter @EditorPhilipWeyhe. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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