TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County Health Department officials toiled in overdrive since a rash of communicable diseases emerged in the community this year, and they hope adding an additional nurse will help ease the workload.

County commissioners unanimously approved the addition of one full-time public health nurse to the department's communicable disease program, which monitors and responds to more than 70 communicable diseases that law requires physicians and laboratories to report.

"I'm in support of the motion," Commissioner Charlie Renny said. "I'd also like to compliment the health department of how they handled all phases of the outbreak this fall."

Health Officer Wendy Trute said she's been pulling nurses from other service areas to meet the program's increased volume of whooping cough, parapertussis and measles cases.

That's resulted in cuts to health clinics, home visits and school vision and hearing screenings, as well as in a loss of revenue to those programs.

"We've come to the point where we just can't continue to do that. It's not feasible anymore," Trute told commissioners last week.

Trute said the additional nurse would help meet the needs for communicable disease investigation and follow-up, improve school reporting, assist with demand for additional immunizations in the community during peak times, and ultimately allow non-communicable disease staff to return to their respective programs.

She estimates the nurse's yearly compensation will cost the county $53,845, and commissioners will amend their 2015 budget to accommodate the request.

Commissioners unanimously approved the new position, and cited public health and safety as a top priority.

"You know how stingy I am with county money, but this is where I think health, safety, welfare — this is the core of what we do," Commissioner Dan Lathrop said. "I'm going to support this."

Trute said the new position will continue to be essential even after outbreaks subside.

New state guidelines for 2015 require all families seeking an immunization waiver for philosophical reasons first meet with public health officials, which will require more staffing.

"I wouldn't have gone to the board for a permanent position just because of an outbreak," Trute said. "We really felt in looking at the whole picture that what we have going on really needs a permanent position."

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