Members of the Knox County Board of Health on Wednesday bid an official farewell to their long-time leader.
Dr. Daniel Combs two weeks ago submitted his resignation to the county commissioners, signaling his departure from the health board after years of service.
County health officer Dr. Alan Stewart said Combs had experienced some health problems recently and has now moved to San Antonio, Texas, to live with a daughter.
“He has offered a letter of resignation, and he expressed how glad he was to have participated for so many years,” Stewart told the board as its members met inside Good Samaritan’s Cancer Pavilion. “He’s very proud of the board’s accomplishments and says (serving) is something he enjoyed doing very much.
“It’s with deep regret that he resigned,” Stewart said.
Combs last month, too, was honored with the 2020 Walter A. Davis Memorial Citation for Service.
The Davis Citation, presented every year since 1952, is presented annually to a VU alumnus and recognizes civic leadership and contributions, in addition to professional achievements.
After earning his medical degree from Indiana University and serving in the military, Combs returned to Vincennes to practice medicine from 1968 until his retirement in 2019.
His career at Good Samaritan spanned more than 50 years.
But with his resignation from the board, its members held a brief reorganizational meeting Wednesday, officially electing long-time member Don Fredrick as chairman and local attorney Tanner Bouchie as vice-chairman.
The commissioners are charged with finding a replacement for Combs on the board; per state statute, it must be a local physician.
The county’s COVID nurse, Betty Lankford, also reported to the board Wednesday that since Jan. 9, the vaccine clinic, located inside the health department at 305 S. Fifth St., has administered nearly 13,500 doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
September, too, was a “big month,” she said, as nurses gave more than 1,600 doses.
Lankford did, however, encourage the board to consider offering compensation to the clinic’s near 40 volunteers, a combination of retired nurses, registrars and greeters.
Many have been volunteering their time to the clinic since the vaccines first arrived nearly a year ago.
“We thought this would be short-lived, and it’s not. It’s still not,” she said. “We have the same group that started with us. They’ve become a family. They all know each other. They know their shortcomings, their strengths.
“But they’re starting to feel burnout.”
The proposal was for the board to consider making these volunteers — the ones who have agreed to be compensated — contracted, hourly workers.
While much is to be determined, the stipend would be based on part-time work (four hours per day) at $22 per hour for registered nurses and $16 per hour or registrars and greeters.
Lankford said they will still be able to choose when they want to work, but paying them serves as an incentive to sign up.
“We want them to be compensated for their time,” she said. “In return, some of them are feeling more obligated to come in. They’re signing up more and more, an assurance that they will continue with us.
“This gives them a reason to stay.”
The board approved the request for compensation for volunteers, but it will also need approval from the county council as well.
Stewart, too, said as well as things are going at the clinic now, it is cramped.
He continues his search, he said, to find a larger facility — “a better place to offer a better, overall experience,” he said.
A year ago, health officials took over a community room at Community United Methodist Church but downsized in May amid dwindling demand for the vaccine. That demand, however, has seen an uptick, especially with the availability of third doses to those immunocomprimised.
That said, the board commended Lankford and Stewart for a job well done as many are reporting positive experiences when getting their vaccines.
“I’ve been there,” declared Fredrick. “It’s amazing what you guys are able to get done.”
In other business, health department bookkeeper Cassandra Heinlein reported to board members that following more than 50 recent restaurant inspections, two had to be completely shut down due to repeated violations. One, she told the board, was Chavas Mexican Grill at 1902 Hart St.; the other she said she could not yet announce publicly.
Stewart was careful, though, to say that the neither the fines associated with repeated violations nor a shut-down are “frivolous things.”
“They are given a period of time to correct before we fine. It’s only after we return and still find problems that we do that,” he said. “And even then it’s only at 25% of what the state allows.
“But it’s important for the safety of the community that this is done,” he said. “Otherwise, we would have people getting sick all the time.”
Chavas, Heinlein said, had more than 40 violations; the full report will be published on Monday.