HIGH POINT — Guilford County plans to spend more than $1.8 million to operate a call center and staff clinics to help more people get COVID-19 vaccinations.

During today’s 5:30 p.m. meeting, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners is expected to approve contracts through June 30, 2022, for $1.8 million with Protiviti Government Services and $33,125 with Carousel Industries to operate the call center and staff vaccine clinics. The board will pay for them with money from state and federal COVID relief funds, including money left over from the end of last year that was rolled into the general operating budget.

Up to now, Guilford County has handled vaccine-related calls internally by reassigning staff and county phone lines, said Heather Skeens, director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“What we hope to accomplish is shifting our perspective from waiting for individuals to call the agency to DHHS reaching out to provide education, assist with navigating where to find a location administering the vaccine and assistance with rescheduling missed second-dose appointments,” Skeens said. “Guilford County currently has Public Health and Social Services staff providing coverage for the call center and vaccination sites, and these individuals need to return to their primary responsibilities.”

These efforts are aimed at increasing vaccination rates and providing a more consistent message, now being repeated on bus signs, billboards and advertisements, chairman Skip Alston said. At the same time, the county public health division is “going to be cranking up our mobile unit and making sure that we try to hit the neighborhoods,” Alston said.

Employees of the call center will call targeted groups of people, starting with Health Department clients and those who receive services through the Department of Social Services, said Carlvena Foster, board vice chair.

“There’s really been no spike in cases in Guilford County, but there’s a big need to try to do more outreach to underserved communities,” Foster said.

The work the contracted companies will do will be “more comprehensive and the technology will also be enhanced” compared to what the county has been doing internally, Foster said.

“That’s one of the challenges we’ve had with the current setup. The staffing at the site, the call center and the technology will support all of the work that we’re trying to get done. It’s important that we reach as many people as we can,” she said.

Call center employees will ask people whether they’ve been vaccinated, and those who have had only one vaccine will be asked about getting a second shot, Foster said. The callers will provide information, schedule vaccinations and offer transportation to those in need.

“They will ask questions, first of the person they’re talking to and then they’ll ask if everybody in their household has been vaccinated and if they know whether their neighbors have been vaccinated,” Foster said.

The board wants to get to a 75% or more vaccination rate for Guilford County residents as soon as possible, Alston said.

“Even though we opened back up in the community and at different businesses, COVID is not over yet,” Alston said. “We’re just stepping up our efforts and letting people know that this is still a serious virus out there, especially with this other variant that’s coming out also.”

The county has the option to extend the contracts for one year at the same price, terms and conditions upon mutual written agreement of both parties.

Foster said the work will be evaluated in the coming months.

“It’s a lot of money and we need to make sure that it’s working,” Foster said. “If it’s not working, there’s some flexibility in the contract that we can make some adjustments. We think it will be worth the effort and the dollars to reach more people and get more people vaccinated.”

Alston noted the board invited mayors of municipalities within the county to share plans for using their American Rescue Plan allocations and see how the county may be able to assist them during a work session set for 2:30 p.m. today.

“We’re not the only ones who can make decisions here in Guilford County,” Alston said. “We need our municipalities to be onboard also.”

The county board plans at least three community meetings to talk about ARP and have the citizens come out and ask questions about it also, he said.

cingram@hpenews.com | 336-888-3534 | @HPEcinde

cingram@hpenews.com | 336-888-3534 | @HPEcinde