Hopewell Township Committee appoints new vulnerable populations coordinator for health department

Hopewell Township has hired a new vulnerable populations outreach coordinator for the township health department and community.

The Township Committee approved the appointment of Samantha Austin on Oct. 3 at a Township Committee meeting.

Austin replaces former vulnerable populations outreach coordinator (VPOC) Horacio Hernandez, who resigned in July to return to school, according to the township.

The township appointed Hernandez in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic on Jan. 25, 2021.

The health department was able to enhance the department’s capacity to reach vulnerable populations with the addition of Hernandez after receiving a two-year New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) COVID grant.

The full-time temporary position conducts a needs assessment, collaborates with different Mercer County social service agencies and examines where the township needs to meet the needs of residents that had not yet been met when the position was first established.

The position is designed to ensure at-risk residents in their communities have access to support services (housing, insurance coverage and unemployment compensation), officials said.

VPOCs identify at-risk populations in municipality health departments across the state.

Montgomery Township and Princeton are just two of many surrounding communities that have their own VPOCs funded through grants from the NJDOH.

Austin began her new position on Oct. 4 and has an annual salary of $58,856.

The position is fully grant funded from the NJDOH and her deployment is tied to the grant, according to Township Administrator George Snyder, noting without the grant, the VPOC position would no longer exist.

In July 2020, during the height of the pandemic, the NJDOH announced $32.3 million in federal funding that would be awarded to county and local municipal health departments.

Part of that funding included $18.6 million that was distributed to 77 local-to-hire VPOCs.

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