Public health unit plans to get back to basics

Niagara Region Public Health is working to reestablish its pre-pandemic health protection and promotion routine, Dr. Mustafa Hirji said while presenting the unit’s annual service plan to the regional council last week.

Over the past two years, the public health unit has diverted resources to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which included significant staff expansions and reassignments, Hirji said.

The shifting of resources has come at the expense of programming, which has been drastically reduced or, in some cases, stopped altogether.

“You will see a budget here of $57.2 million that has already been approved,” Hirji told the board Thursday. “This covers basic public health operations, including responses to COVID and mass vaccinations.

“The funding balance in the budget is $2.7 million, and the province allowed us to submit business cases for 100% provincial funding for several different projects.”

Hirji said Niagara is already seeing the “cumulative impacts” of COVID-19 on residents’ health and health equity.

A staff report said public health had made tentative efforts towards the end of 2021 to bring staff back to their original programs, but with the advent of the Omicron wave at the end of 2021, a “comprehensive approach was needed again, which led to programs being put back on hold.

“There are also opportunities to get 100% provincial funding for several projects, including school-based vaccination catch-up that we have not been able to do for the past two years and screening work catch-up. dental,” Hirji said. .

“We’ve replaced one of our vaccine refrigerators, got new electronic tablets for our smokeless tobacco inspectors, and funded some of the work we’ll be doing to support the Canada Summer Games (in August) later this this month.

The staff report says that in 2022, public health plans to shift its focus to support programs such as mental health promotion for marginalized populations. It also aims to reconnect and re-engage residents of priority neighborhoods, combat an epidemic of opioid overdoses, and implement strategies to reduce sexually transmitted infections.

The report says COVID-19 recovery would not be possible without restoring essential programs and services and supporting those disproportionately affected with lower socioeconomic status.

“There is an urgent need to get this approved,” Hirji said. “As everyone probably knows, the province is heading towards an election in about 20 days, and the goal of the provincial government was to decide what financial amounts we will get before that time.

“So hopefully we can get approval for that, and we can make sure that we get our public health funding in the near future for that.”

Some of the dollar figures given in the report include $188,000 for syringes to support community safe injection activities, $25,000 for replacement vaccine refrigerators, $13,532 for Smoke-Free Ontario and $364,825 for the Summer Games.

The report indicates that there is an increased demand for needles as a harm reduction strategy in the community. The cost of needles and hazardous waste disposal has increased dramatically during COVID-19, and there has been an alarming rise in substance-related deaths locally.

The purpose of the vaccine refrigerator will be to safely store the multi-million dollar vaccine inventory and meet the specific requirements outlined in the Vaccine Storage and Handling Protocol.

The Summer Games, August 6-21, will bring over 5,000 athletes and coaches and an additional 80,000 visitors expected to Niagara.

The report says the event is expected to increase demand for public health services from the perspective of health protection, health promotion, communications and surveillance.

Public Health is also preparing to conduct additional inspections in all 12 municipalities and to enhance health promotion and health communication activities in Niagara. Public Health will also work with emergency management and the province to establish a daily surveillance report to ensure that any clusters of infectious diseases are identified and treated quickly.

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