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Youngstown health commissioner serves community during pandemic

“I love what I do in the city that I love. I hope that we can do things to continue to make it a better place,” Erin Bishop, health commissioner for the City of Youngstown’s Health District, said.

[EDITOR'S NOTE — Difference Makers articles share stories of the local heroes making a difference during the extraordinary times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This section is made possible by Eastwood Mall and named in honor of Mark Eckert, who made a difference in the Mahoning Valley.]

YOUNGSTOWN — Erin Bishop, health commissioner for the City of Youngstown’s Health District, is at the forefront of communicating Youngstown’s plan of action when dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Because of Bishop’s dedication to the community, she recently was named an honoree for the Women Warriors initiative through the Guiding Circle of the Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls. 

Bishop has used her position to collaborate with local health professionals and city leaders to inform the public of COVID-19-related updates through press conferences, briefings, public service announcements and online town halls. 

Bishop, who is a Youngstown native, said receiving the honor was “truly a blessing” and caused her to reflect on all the women in her life whom she considers to be women warriors. 

“Our entire supervisory staff is made up of all women, so of course I’m surrounded by a great group of women,” Bishop said. “Then I look at the city, and we have women city council members, and you know, Dawn Turnage and Nikki Posterli are both department heads. So I’m just very lucky to be surrounded by women [who] uplift me,” she said. 

Bishop described the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as an “all-hands-on-deck” effort. 

“I just saw this huge sense of community with all the department heads and how we work together,” she said. 

As more businesses start to reopen, Bishop said she follows guidelines set by the federal and state governments, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for determining when various city buildings can reopen. 

Additionally, she works with the City of Youngstown’s Environmental Health Division to send sanitarians to each business and notifies business owners of reopening procedures. 

“Our first weekend that our bars and restaurants were open, we had zero complaints,” she said. “I think because we went out and we just had that good communication with our businesses, I think that's very helpful.” 

According to Bishop, most of the health department’s complaints recently involve wearing masks. She said masks are required for all businesses. 

“Any employees have to be wearing masks, no matter where you’re at. So if you’re at a place and you see someone is not wearing a mask, they are out of compliance and they should be,” she said. 

Bishop highly recommends everyone wear a mask when in public, wash their hands regularly and follow social distancing of at least 6 feet apart. 

“It’s just an act of kindness. If you look at it that way and not politically, just think of it as being kind and trying to help,” she said. 

“You know, it’s nice out and people want to get together. We all miss each other. We miss our families and we’ve all sacrificed things in our lives [during the COVID-19 pandemic],” she said. “It’s hard. You don’t want to go to a graduation party and not be able to stand next to people and talk to them. So you have to be patient with that.” 

For Bishop, serving Youngstown during the COVID-19 pandemic extends after office hours. 

According to youngstownohio.gov, Bishop is the co-chair for the MY Baby’s First Infant Mortality Coalition and serves on the Safe Sleep, Birth Spacing, and Social Determinants of Health Housing Committees. She is the co-chair of the Taft Promise Neighborhood Health & Wellness Council and board chair for Access Health Mahoning Valley. 

Additionally, she serves on 25 different councils, boards, committees and coalitions, including Mayor Jamael Tito Brown’s Senior Advisory Committee, Mahoning County Prescription Overdose Coalition, Youngstown Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Coalition for Health Promotion, Greater Youngstown Dialogue on Racism and Mahoning County Homeless Continuum of Care.

Recently, she has volunteered with Youngstown City Schools to pack and distribute food since schools closed in March. 

“When things got a little crazy and they didn’t know if they were going to be able to continue to do food distributions, the people at the city jumped in and said, ‘Hey, we want to help them out,’” she said. “It was just a way to do a good thing during this time.” 

According to Bishop, she enjoyed even the minimal human interaction with the community as she volunteered at Youngstown City Schools that she’s missed since the start of the pandemic. She said it was an opportunity for her to spread kindness throughout Youngstown. 

As Bishop’s roles and responsibilities as health commissioner for the City of Youngstown’s Health District have shifted in the past three months, she said she admires the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley for taking the time to start the Women Warriors initiative. 

“During this time, things are just different, and [the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley is] used to doing mini conferences and different things, but at this time they can’t do that, so they took it upon themselves to do these Women Warriors and highlight women. I think that is a really cool thing,” she said. “To be one of them is even more exciting.” 

“I love what I do in the city that I love. I hope that we can do things to continue to make it a better place,” she said.