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Rachel Blinka, Hamilton County Public Health: Healthcare Workers Appreciation Days at the Zoo

"My work, and the contact tracing and outbreak team I’ve trained has contributed directly to preventing cases, hospitalizations, and death during this pandemic," shares Blinka.

Apr 6, 2022

Rachel Blinka

Cincinnati zoo logo

The Health Collaborative is partnering with Cincinnati Zoo and Hamilton County to offer Healthcare Workers FREE Admission to the Zoo starting on World Health Day (April 7) through April 10.

A select group of healthcare heroes will be honored at the zoo this Thursday, April 7 for their tremendous resolve and dedication to our communities, and to upholding the principles of public health during an unprecedented global crisis.

Rachel Blinka of Hamilton County Public Health is one of these heroes, earning recognition for her work in curtailing the spread of COVID-19. 

As a Communicable Disease Specialist and Manager of the Hamilton County Public Health COVID-19 Outbreak Response Team, Blinka stepped into COVID response and quickly became a specialist in the work. We asked Rachel to provide some insights into her experiences throughout the past two years of being on the front lines:

Rachel Blinka
Hamilton County Public Health

Q: Thanks for joining us, Rachel! Let’s begin with the basics: how long have you been working in healthcare?

A: I’ve spent about five years in public health work (I’m not clinical), including working in advocacy for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault at Women Helping Women, contact tracing with the Ohio Department of Health, and outbreak investigation with Hamilton County Public Health.

Q: What do you love about your job?

A: I love the fact that I know my work has an impact on our community, even if it’s not felt immediately/directly. My work, and the contact tracing and outbreak team I’ve trained has contributed directly to preventing cases, hospitalizations, and death during this pandemic.

It’s my job to assist any facility experiencing an outbreak, meaning that I’ve learned about nearly every kind of place in our county, and worked with every school, daycare, healthcare facility, and many workplaces to keep them up to date on best practices and help them prevent further spread of C-19. I cherish the connections and relationships I have formed with the contacts I’ve made at these locations (especially the school nurses), and the trust that our health department has built with them, as we’ve provided tools and guidance when information has changed over time. One of my favorite moments in this work was being able to meet some of the school nurses in person for the very first time, of all places, at the vaccine clinics that we held for first responders.

Q: What has it been like working in healthcare during COVID?

A: It’s almost impossible to describe exactly how working directly on pandemic response has been. I’ve never felt more fulfilled and frustrated. It’s the most meaningful and *most challenging role I’ve had to date. I joined pandemic related work shortly after earning my MPH at George Washington University, so COVID-19 response has been my specialty for about two years now. My role has changed substantially over time, but a large part of what I’ve done is made sure that I have up to date information ready to roll out to our community in an accessible way.

*Despite challenges outlined in this study, which I’ve experienced, I know that the work I do is important, and I am incredibly lucky to have leadership at Hamilton County Public Health that values my work and supports me.

Q: Do you have any notable COVID-related stories or stats to share?

A: I worked quite a few wedding outbreaks (one that made national news) while postponing my own that was supposed to happen in 2020, which was so discouraging. However, thanks to vaccines, I was able to have COVID-free 2021 wedding and honeymoon!

Q: What’s your favorite zoo animal or zoo exhibit?

A: Fiona/Hippo Cove (hippos have been my favorite animal since childhood).

“The past few years have been challenging, and nowhere have those challenges been greater felt than with the heroic work playing out on the front lines and behind the scenes in our healthcare community,” said Craig Brammer, CEO of The Health Collaborative. “Our healthcare community put everything else aside to come together for the good of our region. And I believe, because of these people who put others’ health above their own, we’re coming out of this crisis stronger for it.”

Blinka and seven of her healthcare peers from across the region’s health systems will be honored this Thursday morning at the Cincinnati Zoo, with a program and proclamation by Hamilton County officials. CLICK HERE for more about Zoo Days: Healthcare Workers Appreciation Days, and CLICK HERE to read the press release.


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