By Stephen Petrick
More support will be needed for public health units for “catch up and recovery” as they enter a new stage of the pandemic.
That’s the gist of an urgent-sounding letter signed by Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPRDHU) chairperson Doug Elmslie. The letter, addressed to Ontario Minister of Health Christine Elliott, was endorsed and supported by Haliburton County councillors at their virtual meeting held on Wednesday, Oct. 13.
The letter cited not only the incredible challenge of controlling Covid locally, but also its impact on other public health programs, which took a back seat during the height of the pandemic, when staff and money were redeployed just to keep the virus under control.
“I’m really pleased this letter is coming forward, this is an ongoing theme throughout Covid,” said Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts, adding that she has heard stories of dieticians being deployed to work at vaccination centres. “So many programs … have gone by the wayside.”
The letter stated that “throughout the pandemic, resources at HKPRDHU have been diverted from pre-existing services to ensure a timely response to COVID-19 and prevent further spread of the virus throughout Ontario. Similar to other areas of the health sector, difficult decisions have been made about which programs to scale down (or stop) and which to continue.”
This has resulted in a backlog of services that included the following: 2,400 students missed school-based immunization programs and an additional 1,200 have not been offered second doses to complete their full immunization series through the school program.
Also, more than 70 small drinking water systems still require inspection. And 5,300 local children are overdue for oral health screenings.
“We are reaching a point locally that if we don’t start to catch up on these services the backlog will become too large of a hurdle to overcome,” the letter continued. “As such, we intend to build in capacity to begin addressing this issue but will require assurance from the Ministry that extraordinary costs associated with this will be covered.”
The letter also states that it’s now clear that the work associated with controlling Covid “will require dedicated attention for many years to come.” Tasks such as case and contact management, outbreak management and communication will continue and health agencies will need funding to support these programs.
Yet, at the same time, funding increases to public health have not happened often enough, the letter argued.
“Prior to COVID-19, local public health agencies had received only one increase to base funding in the past five years. Despite this, several new programs were introduced to the Ontario Public Health Standards, including Vision Screening and requirements to respond to Infection Prevention and Control Complaints and inspection of private swimming pools.”
The letter also contained some eye-opening statistics about Covid in Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, HKPRDHU has responded to more than 2,300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 71 COVID-19 related outbreaks. The health unit has also responded to more than 700 community complaints regarding infection prevention and control and enforcement for COVID-19 public health measures, and 6,930 COVID-19 related inquiries through its COVID-19 call centre. In addition, HKPRDHU has been responsible for getting 270,000 doses of vaccine into the arms of local residents.