Health board honors Fulton-Black as Employee of the Year, Hispanic Liaison as Community Partner of the Year

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PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Board of Health announced its award winners for 2022 during its regular board meeting on May 23, recognizing individuals and groups that played a significant role in the Chatham County community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in advancing public health.

Dr. Karen Barbee, the board’s chairperson, presented the awards.

Maia Fulton-Black, the department’s population health data scientist, was recognized as the department’s Employee of the Year. Fulton-Black started with the department in the fall of 2020 in a new position designed to provide insight and guidance into public health response from data analysis, but her biggest task of the last year is the soon-to-be-completed Community Assessment process. Fulton-Black’s nomination letter noted leadership and dedication in that process. Colleagues also praised her as easy to work with and skilled at her job.

The nomination form for Fulton-Black stated: “Maia has promoted our mission to build a healthy Chatham County through community partnerships and a commitment to equity by providing invaluable expertise on population level data, leading innovative approaches to community assessment survey design, advocating for data-driven decision making, and through her drive to meaningfully center equity in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs, policies, and initiatives.”

The Hispanic Liaison/El Vínculo Hispano, a nonprofit based in Siler City serving Chatham’s immigrant population, was named the department’s Community Partner of the Year. Founded in 1995 by current executive director Ilana Dubester, the Hispanic Liaison has been a key partner in the response to COVID-19, particularly among Chatham County’s sizable Hispanic community, hosting COVID-19 vaccination events, Facebook Live videos to educate the community, and recently hiring four “lay health advisors” to conduct on-the-ground outreach.

“The Hispanic Liaison’s established role as a trustworthy source of information, resources, and support for the Hispanic-Latinx community in Chatham County has been critical during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the nomination form for the Hispanic Liaison stated. “The increase we’ve seen in vaccination rates among the Hispanic/Latinx population in Chatham would not have been nearly as successful without the partnership of the health department and the Hispanic Liaison.”

Among other efforts, the Liaison partnered with the health department to put on several COVID-19 vaccination drives at St. Julia Catholic Church, which saw 280 first doses of vaccine administered in the first clinic in March of 2021. They’ve also partnered with Greensboro-based medical provider Better Care to hold Sunday vaccination clinics in more remote areas of Chatham County to increase access, as well as a COVID-19 Health Fair last summer in which more than 300 people received the shot at the fair, plus its accompanying follow-up clinic.

In December, the partial vaccination rate among the county’s Hispanic population pulled ahead of that of Chatham’s non-Hispanic population after months of trailing other demographic groups by double-digit percentage points — a feat Public Health Director Mike Zelek at the time attributed to the “hard work of community organizations like Hispanic Liaison and our staff who carried our critical efforts to make the vaccine accessible and share reliable information.”

“We at the Hispanic Liaison feel very honored by this award, humbled by the fact that our work is recognized by the Health Department, and even more energized to continue with our work in the counties we serve,” Will Mendoza, the Liaison’s COVID-19 Project Manager, told the News + Record. “On behalf of our team I want to thank the many partners, volunteers, and community members who have supported us in this effort to help our LatinX community. Also, I want to acknowledge that the Chatham County (Public) Health Department has been nothing but stellar in their effort to provide culturally appropriate support to our community, and look forward to the future collaborations.”

Barbee congratulated the award recipients and said they “exemplify what the Chatham County Public Health Department stands for.”

“It was a pleasure to award this year’s Chatham County Board of Health Community Partner and Employee of the Year recipients,” she said. “Our community partner, the Hispanic Liaison, worked tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to increase the vaccination status of the Hispanic/Latinx community in Chatham, thus protecting their health and safety. Our Employee of the Year, Maia Fulton-Black adjusted her approaches to collecting data for the Chatham County Community Assessment, which is already a challenging task to undergo pre-pandemic, and was even more successful.”

“We are so grateful to all of our staff and community partners for the amazing work they have done over the past year,” Zelek added. “Both Maia and the Hispanic Liaison are very deserving of this recognition.”

To learn more about the Chatham County Public Health Department, visit www.chathamcountync.gov/publichealth or www.facebook.com/chathamhealth.

Reporter Victoria Johnson contributed to this report.

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