State Representative Jon Cross, Mayor Lynn Webb and a representative from Kenton Nursing and Rehab Center held a press conference in Kenton on Friday.
The press conference centered around the Kenton-Hardin County Health Departments local response to orders put into place by former Director of the Ohio Department of Health, Dr. Amy Acton. Cross stated that, “Today’s event is not to talk about the virus, this is not about the science. It’s about actions and the side effects of what’s happening with COVID-19.”
To begin the conference, Cross cited complaints from local businesses whose grievances lie with “bullying” from the Department. The Local Ace Hardware, who was slated to be in attendance, was absent from the meeting on recommendations from their Attorney who advised against the move with the possibility of pending legal action. Cross, speaking on their behalf, said that local Health Department officials threatened to shut Ace Hardware down based due to employees not wearing masks.
Cross then turned his attention toward the current situation developing at the Kenton Nursing and Rehab Center in Kenton. Speaking on behalf of KNRC was Shani Jones, who gave the updated numbers on deaths within the facility. According to Jones, there have been 8 deaths with 39 residents testing positive, 3 currently in the hospital and 24 pending tests. Jones thanked the community for their support that they have received and asked for the community for their continued prayers.
Mayor Lynn Webb then spoke at the conference on the city’s response to the KNRC outbreak. Webb said that the community is very giving and will rally around causes that need addressed, like assistance to KNRC. However, Webb shared concerns that the local Health Department was not sharing information with city officials. Webb cited that she asked multiple times for information concerning COVID-19 related numbers in Kenton, but was denied due to “HIPAA”. She stressed that the city needs to make decisions about policing and emergency services based on information provided. Webb stated that she reached out, in conjunction with State Representative Jon Cross, for a meeting with officials of the Health Department to no avail.
Cross spoke again about the funding which the Kenton-Hardin Health Department receives. According to Cross, the city of Kenton gives the department $80,000 in allocated funds. Cross said that this is a concern, as the department met with Commissioners who provide no funding but, not with the Mayor of Kenton who does provide funding. Stating that this has been a pattern of non-willingness to communicate with both the Board and staff of the Health Department to communicate with local officials.
Cross then turned his attention toward legislation which is being acted upon by Ohio’s General Assembly currently, dealing with the abilities and power of local and State Health Departments. Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 55 were the bills that Cross brought most of his attention to. Senate Bill 1 deals directly with Public Health orders and their lengths while Senate Bill 55 would strip local and state health departments of their powers of issuing misdemeanors and felonies. Cross encouraged his Senate colleagues to get to work in passing both of these bills in the Senate.
During questions from the press, WKTN’s Chase Fleece asked Cross about information received concerning his phone call with Forest Village administration. His question asked Cross if the claims that he berated village administrators over the citing of a local resident, claiming he would have nothing to do with Forest in the future. Cross responded by saying that he told the Mayor of his disappointment with the use of the citation against the resident. His disappointment was both in the citation and the inconsistency of what is open and what isn’t.
WKTN reached out for comment from the Kenton-Hardin County Health Department who issued this written statement:
“The Kenton-Hardin Health Department continues to follow the lead of the Ohio Department of Health when it comes to guidance and safety measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. We work hard to prevent, promote and protect the health of our community and will continue to make sure our constituents remain informed during and after this pandemic and follow guidelines set by the state. Our staff is trained to do what is best to protect the community and will remain doing so during this unprecedented time.”
Furthermore, the Health Department was asked why they met with the Hardin County Commissioners and not officials from the city of Kenton. They responded by saying that, “We were summoned by the County Commissioners for a 10 o’clock meeting. We presented that meeting with our legal counsel present and our Board President.” Additionally, when asked why they attended the Commissioners meeting, who doesn’t provide funding and not the City who provides $80,000 they replied, “They were told the proper channels to follow and they have not followed them at this time.”