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Gov. Wolf honored 51 state employees on Wednesday May 5 by giving them the Governor's Award for Excellence for 2020. Photo: Getty Images. 
Gov. Wolf honored 51 state employees on Wednesday May 5 by giving them the Governor's Award for Excellence for 2020. Photo: Getty Images. 

PA State Employees get the recognition they deserve

Gov. Tom Wolf recently honored several state employees for their efforts in what was a difficult 2020.

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The office of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf released a statement on Wednesday, May 5 that included all of the recipients of the Governor’s Awards for Excellence for 2020.  

Wolf also proclaimed May 5 as State Employee Recognition Day to acknowledge their work and public service. 

“The accomplishments of these award recipients are a testament to the vital work that state employees throughout the commonwealth do every day to improve people’s lives and create a better future for all Pennsylvanians,” the governor said. “I want to thank all state employees for their extraordinary service throughout the pandemic and for their commitment to the people of Pennsylvania.”

Award nominations were open between Jan. 4 and Jan. 31 of this year and 26 states agencies submitted a total of 137 nominations. 

Candidates had to meet one or more of the following guidelines; Must go beyond an individual agency program and have multi-agency impact. Must have a significant impact on the general public, or the life, safety, or property of another (others). Must have significantly enhanced the image, prestige, or effectiveness of the Commonwealth. Exemplifies outstanding public service to the commonwealth. 

Each winner of the award will receive a commendation from Gov. Wolf, informing them of their selection. 

Fifty-one employees from 10 state agencies were selected as recipients of the Award for Excellence in 2020 and they were recognized at a virtual ceremony on Wednesday, May 5. Seven teams represented the majority of the recipients, and eight people were individually recognized.  

The winners of this award demonstrated true resilience as they kept the Commonwealth afloat in a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic inflicted heavy strains on Pennsylvania’s labor force, economy and health system. 

On top of this, it was an election year where Pennsylvanians would be voting for president, members of congress, state house, among other more local positions. 

Below are some of the teams and individuals whose actions directly related to efforts to contain the pandemic and have a smooth running 2020 election. 

COVID-19

Margaret Barajas from the Department of Aging was the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, and she was selected because of her work to assist residents in long-term care facilities with stabilizing outbreaks of coronavirus and seeing their family members. 

Starting the Virtual Family Council allowed facility residents to see their families through a remote-controlled, wheeled robot with a smartphone or tablet attached. 

Within the Department of General Services, the Commonwealth Media Services (CMS) team also ran effective marketing campaigns. 

They aided the Department of Health in informing Black and Latino communities about COVID-19 guidelines and precautions. Their “Ready to Vote” campaign prompted voter participation and helped residents of the Keystone state know how to go about the process, especially the increasing number who would be voting by mail because of the pandemic. 

Personal protective equipment was vital to have during the pandemic, and although items were scarce at first, Hayes Kelly from the Department of General Services made sure residents could have access to them. 

He set-up the Commonwealth’s Critical Stockpile Warehouse. Under his management, the warehouse has distributed a combined total of 32.1 million N95 masks, safety gloves, safety gowns, procedure face masks, face shields and units of hand sanitizer. 

Over 60 million items are now in reserve so that Pennsylvania is prepared for another outbreak or pandemic. 

Also from the Department of General Services, Matthew Bembenick was recognized for helping other agencies by establishing a sustainable supply-chain and warehousing operation for state agencies that are large-scale PPE users. 

The Regional Response Health Collaborative Program was vital for advising long-term care facilities with outbreaks. From July to December their services were used over 14,000 times. 

The creators of the programs were awarded for their work to avoid emergency closures, which could have put more people at risk of contracting the virus.  

The COVID-19 Data Team was responsible for working with institutions across the state to ensure that they had an accurate count of cases, outbreaks and positive test results. 

2020 Elections

Ensuring that online systems across the Commonwealth were updated to meet reforms of Act 77 of 2019 within five months for the 2020 primaries was the responsibility of the Elections System Technology Team in the Office of Administration. 

Act 77 includes no-excuse mail-in voting and extended deadlines for voter registration. Both led to high turnout in the primaries and November’s general election. 

Responsible for the election law changes in Act 77, the Elections Legal Team with the Department of State was recognized for their work to have every Pennsylvanian confident about casting their ballot safely in an unprecedented year. 

They did this through reviewing voter education materials and creating an accessible write-in ballot and process for voters with disabilities. 

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