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Health department addresses COVID-19 impact on vulnerable populations with new coordinator

The Princeton Health Department, with the new addition of a vulnerable population outreach coordinator (VPOC), will look to provide additional support for vulnerable populations in the municipality.

Gwendolyn Krol was formally introduced to the Board of Health as the new VPOC during the board’s February meeting. The department hired Krol through a two-year grant from the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH).

Princeton Health Officer Jeff Grosser said the purpose of the position is to investigate, contain and mitigate COVID-19 through targeted outreach to vulnerable populations. He added that the position strengthens the health department’s public health capacity.

“I will be assisting the Princeton Health Department in making our approach to navigating the pandemic more equitable,” Krol said. “So basically I am ensuring that our most at-risk residents are recognized, seen and given resources they need to tackle the social and health impacts of the pandemic that have effect them during this time.”

The VPOC will also help with access to support services such as housing, insurance coverage, and unemployment compensation, according to the job description for Princeton’s VPOC.

Krol currently is working on a vulnerable population needs assessment to understand the impact of COVID-19 on at-risk residents.

“I am going over the demographic issues they have had with healthcare, insurance, food insecurity, housing challenges, their perceptions to the local government, the vaccine – I know there can be hesitancy to get the vaccine and also testing,” Krol added. “So I have been cooperating on this with our local epidemiologist and also working with the Human Services Department since they have worked on a community needs assessment before in 2014.”

Instead of Human Services general needs assessment, Krol’s assessment would have the narrow scope of focusing on COVID-19.

“I have been partnering with local organizations to help in administering the survey and reaching those vulnerable populations,” she added.

After starting the assessment in two months, Krol will present the findings and data from this assessment to the Board of Health, along with a plan to respond to issues found that Princeton’s vulnerable populations are facing.

“I am working with the Princeton University Research Center and they will be helping me put the assessment into an online format, which will have various language options,” she said.

In addition to Princeton, municipalities across Mercer County such as Hopewell Township and Lawrence Township have also hired VPOCs.

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