Story and Photos by Stefanie Jackson – Congresswoman Elaine Luria was on the Eastern Shore on Monday to announce nearly $1 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development to benefit Northampton County emergency medical services and public schools.
Luria met with representatives of state and local agencies at the Northampton County EMS station in Machipongo, where Diane Crockett, EMS provider and administrative assistant, led the congresswoman and her guests on a tour of the building.
The total Emergency Rural Health Care Grant is around $988,000, and about $275,000 will pay for the replacement of a high-mileage EMS vehicle that Crockett showed to guests on the tour, during which she discussed some of the challenges faced by emergency services personnel in a small, rural county.
Northampton County’s EMS department faces unique challenges, as the closest hospital to the north is about 30 minutes away, and the closest hospital to the south is about an hour away, over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
Crockett noted that EMS vehicles have been stranded across the bay due to inclement weather with high winds that delayed their return across the bridge-tunnel.
Furthermore, Northampton may be a small county, but its population increases tenfold during the summer, when tourists flock to destinations like Cape Charles, Kiptopeke State Park, and Cherrystone Campground, which drives up the number of calls for emergency services, Crockett said.
The USDA grant will cover the cost of a much-needed EMS vehicle that will be slightly larger than the one it will replace and will be delivered complete with lights, sirens, and radios, ready to be stocked with medical equipment and supplies and taken out on the road.
The remaining grant funds, nearly $713,000, will be applied to the cost of Occohannock Elementary School’s new, hydrothermal HVAC system, which is replacing the failing HVAC system that had served the school since it was built about 28 years ago, said Northampton schools Director of Operations Chris Truckner.
The grant funds will cover the cost of the new HVAC system in the food service and clinic portions of the school, said Northampton schools Chief Financial Officer Brook Thomas.
Occohannock Elementary’s new HVAC system not only will maintain comfortable temperatures, but it will improve air quality through a cold plasma disinfection system. The technology is effective on bacteria, viruses, including COVID-19, and mold.
“Hopefully, the indoor air quality in that school … will be better, and we’ll have healthier staff and students as a result,” said Northampton County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski.
USDA Rural Development was represented at the event by Adam Cyr, public information officer; Myron Wooden, finance and loan analyst; Jim Dahman, special assistant; Perry Hickman, state director; and Xochitl Torres Small, under secretary.
Peggy Jordan, a USDA Rural Development loan specialist, was absent; her colleagues noted that she is instrumental to their work in Northampton County and the other areas they serve in Virginia.
Kolakowski said, “You don’t get much more critical than this,” referring to EMS, and “you don’t get much more critical than providing an education for our children, and this grant hits home on both points.”
This story has been updated from an earlier version.
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