As far back as Grant County Health Department Clinic Manager Jessica Winegar can remember, she always wanted to be involved in taking care of other people.

She said her mother thought that she would become a veterinarian, which, she said, is similar to a nurse.

“I just always wanted to be involved with helping people,” she said.

That drive is why she decided to go back to school to become a nurse practitioner.

“I can do this much as a nurse,” she said, “but I want to be able to do more.”

Winegar, a single mother from Prairie City, said she is 16 weeks — just one semester — from reaching that goal.

She said completing that goal amid the pandemic has been a real challenge, to say the least. Especially when the community is looking to the health department for answers that, at times, have not been readily available.

“We’re just doing the best that we can with the best available evidence and knowledge,” she said. “And everything is going to continue to change.”

Winegar said she feels like the health department and Community Counseling Solutions have grown stronger throughout the pandemic.

She said last month, after a commenter on Facebook said the 87-year-old COVID-19-related death did not die from the coronavirus, the staff grew even closer.

People in the community, she said, accused the health department of somehow financially profiting from tracking the death as a coronavirus death. The health department receives no funding for reporting COVID-19 cases or deaths.

Despite a statement from the state as to the reasons why it tracks people who died with COVID-19, Winegar said she received nasty text messages from people she thought were her friends at one point in her life. But, she said, the health department has received encouraging messages from others in the community as well.

“I’ve lived here long enough to have gone through events that have split the community,” she said, “but you always see people pull together here and that’s what I love about our community.”

Winegar said the Canyon Creek Complex fire in 2015 was an example of Grant County pulling together.

“It’s hard when you have negativity, but that’s just a part of everything that happens in life,” she said.

Winegar starts her last semester the second week of January.

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Steven Mitchell is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at steven@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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