County employees of the year stepped up to serve residents during pandemic

Photo by Tom Rivers: Katie Harvey (center) is the Orleans County Director of Personnel and Self Insurance. During today’s Orleans County legislature meeting she presented plaques to the employees of the year: Mary Ellen Messmer, a supervising public health nurse; and Justin Niederhofer, deputy emergency management director.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 November 2021 at 9:59 pm

ALBION – Two Orleans County employees were recognized as employees of the year for their efforts to serve county residents during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mary Ellen Messmer, a supervising public health nurse, led the Health Department’s contract tracing efforts, often arriving before regular work hours and staying late to call people who were in quarantine due to testing positive for Covid or for being in close contact with someone who tested positive.

Messmer has worked 26 years with the county government. She was praised for her efforts during the pandemic, for helping to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Public Health has been at the center of the Covid response and she has been at the forefront of case investigations and a key component of daily operations,” said Katie Harvey, the county’s director of personnel and self insurance. “She has been extremely organized, professional and detailed in her work throughout the pandemic.”

Messmer assigns the Covid cases to staff members to investigate, and makes many of the calls herself, staying positive and showing compassion to residents in a stressful situation.

“She monitors all of the investigations and pays close attention to detail to be sure that investigations are conducted appropriately.” Harvey said. “She asks nothing of her staff that she would not do herself. The Health Department has been short staffed in her unit for over a year. However she has consistently provided the coverage needed for the continuity of the Health Department’s response needs.”

Justin Niederhofer, the county’s deputy emergency management coordinator, assisted the Health Department in organizing Covid testing clinics at the Orleans County 4-H Fairgrounds and also the mass vaccination clinics at the Ridgeway Fire Hall.

Niederhofer joined the emergency management office in a part-time role in 2017. That position was increased to full time last year near the start of the pandemic.

He started a N-95 respirator fit testing program for the Orleans County Deputy Sheriffs, and employees at the county jail, probation and department of social services. Niederhofer also assisted Jack Welch, the county’s chief administrative officer, and the personnel office with the county’s communicable disease plan that became an appendix to the existing county continuity of operations plan.

Niederhofer also took the lead on ensuring that the county met the state requirement for a six-month stockpile of personal protective equipment including surgical masks, N-95 respirator masks, gloves, face shields, goggles and hand sanitizer for all county employees.

“All of his hard work and dedication during the Covid-19 pandemic has made Orleans County a better and safer place to live and work for our employees and residents,” Harvey said.

The county’s EAP Committee selects employees of the month. The EAP Committee receives nominations from fellow employees and department directors.

The employees of the months for the past year were: October 2020, Elizabeth Milazzo in Social Services; November, Kevin Colonna in Sheriff’s Office; December, Mary Ellen Messmer in Public Health; January 2021, Leanne Donovan in Office for the Aging; February, Devon Pahuta in Sheriff’s Office; March, Carie Doty in Public Health; April, Joseph Grager in Public Works; May, Patrick McGurn in Computer Services; June, Della Fisher in Office for the Aging; July, Justin Niederhofer in Emergency Management Office; and August, Patricia Marciszewski and Julie Vendetti, Sheriff’s Office – Dispatch.

From this pool of candidates, a Department Head must make a recommendation to a separate committee to determine the Employee of the Year, Harvey said.

“The committee looked for additional service that an employee has performed since the individual was recognized as an Employee of the Month,” Harvey said.