By Sue Tiffin
The following are brief reports of items discussed during a March 25 meeting of the Haliburton Highlands Health Services board.
In Ontario, the interval between first and second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines has been extended to up to four months after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization updated guidance on dosing intervals, but the decision is under review.
“That is currently under review, we’re waiting to hear whether there’s any change in direction in that area,” said Carolyn Plummer, HHHS president and CEO.
When asked about her thoughts on the issue – the manufacturing guidelines for the Pfizer vaccine recommend a second dose at 21 days, while the Moderna vaccine guidelines recommend a second dose at 28 days and some research has suggested the delay results in immunocompromised people being less protected – Plummer said the question was challenging.
“This is a challenging question to respond to; on the one hand, we certainly understand the province’s drive to have as many people in receipt of the first dose as possible, but at the same time we are actively advocating in concert with other health service providers across the province for the recommended dosing interval from the pharmaceutical manufacturers in order to ensure maximum protection,” she said.
Dr. Steve Ferracuti said staff had shared concern with the decision that the interval between the first and second dose of vaccine for staff has been extended to 16 weeks.
“The chiefs of staff at the regional hospitals have made some entreaties to our local medical officer of health and to the province on that regard,” said Ferracuti. “As it stands the interval is currently slated to be 16 weeks.”
On March 29, CityNews reported the vaccine schedule had been revised for some immunocompromised people, including transplant and certain cancer patients.
Operational deficit of $530,000
Haliburton Highlands Health Services is receiving reimbursement for additional expenses required during the pandemic, though a significant deficit remains.
“While this continues to be a very challenging year with the ongoing pressures due to the pandemic and our collective efforts in responding, we’re pleased to report that our cash flow issues have significantly improved now that we’re receiving reimbursements,” said David O’Brien, reporting on behalf of the finance committee which met on March 22.
O’Brien said reimbursements for eligible expenses up to the end of November 2020 have been received, as well as funding for lost revenues for long-term care up to the end of January 2021.
“As a result, HHHS’s operational deficit is about $530,000 as of January 31, of which $275,000 relates to lost revenues as a result of COVID-19 service closures in hospital and community programs, and about $255,000 is related to ongoing staffing pressures … resulting in increased cost for overtime, sick time and benefits.”
The COVID-19 expense reimbursement program has been extended until March 31, 2021, but O’Brien said “we’re anticipating to still be in a significant deficit operating position at the year end. We’re working with our funder to resolve these issues and are hopeful that we will be funded for our revenue losses as well as our operating pressures and one-time costs.”
“Regardless of these financial pressures, we remain committed to the measures we have taken to keep our residents, patients, clients, staff and community safe,” said O’Brien. He said they would continue advocating for appropriate funding to address shortfalls.
Virtual primary care clinic to open
The Haliburton County Virtual Primary Care Clinic will launch next month, using the telemedicine suite, staff, equipment and technology already in place in the community.
“This clinic will provide primary care to patients in Haliburton County who currently do not have a local primary care provider,” said Plummer in her CEO report. “Services will include acute and episodic care, chronic disease management, and other services normally accessed through a family physician, and will also connect patients with local and regional services such as specialists. The county’s unattached patients will be able to receive ongoing care at this clinic with a consistent physician and the clinic will work with Health Care Connect and Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team to transition patients to a local family physician as they become available.”
At first, the clinic is planned to operate for two-and-a-half days per week, increasing depending on need.
“It’s intended to help fill a gap in the community and give people that local primary care support until such time as they can transition over to the family health team as capacity there becomes available,” said Plummer in the meeting. “We’re very excited to be able to offer that.”
More information – including details on how patients can book the services – will be rolled out in the next few weeks.