Harris outlines $11.4 million expansion of Health Department

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 14, 2020 6:34 AM CT | Published: May 13, 2020 3:21 PM CT

A proposed $11.4 million Shelby County Health Department expansion, with 141 new positions, would be funded by part of the $49.9 million in federal CARES Act funding received by county government.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris outlined the plan at the Wednesday, May 13, COVID-19 task force briefing. He said a county commission committee was considering the first portion of the proposed expansion, totaling $6.3 million, Wednesday. 

Memphis to get $113.6M from federal CARES Act

Harris said he expects the federal funding for the expansion, once approved by the Shelby County Commission, will last for eight months with some of it remaining in place as he seeks county funding to replace the federal funding.

“Some of that investment will stick and be funded somehow by Shelby County government,” Harris said at the briefing. “But the vast majority of those positions would depend on federal funding. If the federal funding ends on Dec. 30 … those position would also end on Dec. 30 when the federal funding ends.”

<strong>Lee Harris</strong>

Lee Harris

The original estimate several weeks ago was that county government would use $10 million of the federal funding for the health department.

The health department funding that Shelby County commissioners were reviewing in their Wednesday committee sessions includes:

  • Four new epidemiologists at the health department to assist in analyzing and interpreting data and making recommendations based on that.
  • Approximately 60 contact tracers for the health department as temporary employees transferred from other divisions of city and county government return to their regular jobs.
  • A “massive” expansion of technical assistance to businesses and institutions to guide them on social distancing measures as they reopen or deal with outbreaks and virus hot spots.
  • At least eight new nurses as part of a testing team to manage COVID-19 testing within the health department — something the health department doesn’t do as part of its regular services.
  • “Strike teams” that Harris said would focus on “vulnerable populations” including those in nursing homes, other senior citizens and prisoners and detainees in custody.
  • An “enabler” program that is wrap-around services for those in isolation or quarantined because they have the virus or have had contact with someone who has tested positive. “If you are a confirmed case, generally you do not want that confirmed case to go back to work,” Harris said. “And in some cases, you may not even want that confirmed case to go back to their household. … That’s lodging, that is meals and that’s also income support for those folks who are quarantined during that 14-day period.”
  • Funding for a publicity campaign on social distancing and other anti-virus measures.

“The expansion is our top priority and then there are other items in the package that we will present to the County Commission,” Harris said.

Those other items outside the health department would also use the federal COVID funding the county has received. They include beefing up the county’s Community Services division to work with families who may not be sidelined or unable to work because of contact with the virus but because of the economic “dislocation” caused by the closing of “nonessential” businesses.

State leaders grapple with use of federal COVID funds

About $6 million would go to the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County who couldn’t apply for such assistance under the rules for the funding.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do

There would also be some funding of technical assistance programs for “close contact” businesses like barber and beauty shops that were allowed to reopen last week and for other gathering places like churches that can require individual planning for social distancing depending on their size and their layout.

“The point is to make sure that in as many places as possible people are safe,” Harris said. “So we will recommend that all of the COVID funding should be spent in those kinds of ways.”


Lee Harris Shelby County Health Department CAREs Act

Bill Dries on demand

Never miss an article. Sign up to receive Bill Dries' stories as they’re published.

Enter your e-mail address

Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


Reading comments and joining the conversation are some of the many benefits of subscribing. Join the conversation by clicking the View Comments button below. Not a subscriber? Click here. 

Our commenting policy can be viewed here