/Increase to health unit’s budget is COVID-related: MOH
/Screenshot of the March 17 HKPR BOH meeting

Increase to health unit’s budget is COVID-related: MOH

By Sue Tiffin

An overall increase of $3,634,196 – from $22,550,474 to $25,639,670 – to the previously approved Sept. 2021 budget was brought to the board of health for approval by Dr. Natalie Bocking. 

The annual service plan has to be submitted to the Ministry of Health and includes the health unit’s budget for the year of 2022.

Bocking said the changes were due to the health unit experiencing surge demands not previously experienced due to the Omicron variant and wave, in both COVID team and immunization.

“I think we knew theoretically what a different variant could do and demand of us,” said Bocking. “But experiencing it has some realizations that hit home.” 

The Omicron wave also resulted in some Ontario Public Health Standards programs falling further behind, and catch-up costs due to that, said Bocking.

She also cited confirmed funding from the Ministry of Health for the school-focused nursing initiative to the end of 2022; communication of the ministry for a one per cent increase to the base budget, as well as continued one-time funding for ongoing COVID-19 response and recovery activities. 

The one per cent Ministry increase totalled $118,130, the school-focused nurses initiative resulted in $336,000, the COVID one-time provincial funding was $3,081,823 encompassing the general program, vaccine program and recovery, and other one-time funding totalled $98,243.

Salaries were the largest component of the budget, according to Bocking, totalling $2,152,181 with $507,929 in benefits.

“At this point in time the ministry has not indicated the level of funding for a one-term commitment that will see the integration of COVID into our long-term communicable disease programming, hence why we’re still continuing with some contract staff until the end of this year.”

An increase in expenditures totalling $974,087 is also noted.

“Largely as a result of using actual costs from the first months of 2022, when we were in the midst of the Omicron wave, and the significant surge in COVID immunization demands,” said Bocking.

She said she wasn’t anticipating any changes, nor was she requesting any changes to the contribution of the municipalities. 

“This is all related to provincial funding,” she said, and was COVID-related with the hopes of recovery. 

Updated health unit dashboard now shows cases by municipality

Changes to the COVID-19 dashboard include that data by municipality is now reported. At the time of the board of health meeting, data showed that in 2022, 81 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Dysart et al, 64 cases in Minden Hills, 24 cases in Highlands East and 17 cases in Algonquin Highlands. Four hospitalizations due to COVID have occurred in Dysart et al, while one has occurred in Algonquin Highlands. 

The dashboard now also shows historical COVID-19 data from March 2020 to December 2021, with 91 cases and one hospitalization reported in Minden Hills, 87 cases and one hospitalization reported in Dysart et al, 35 cases with no hospitalizations reported in Algonquin Highlands and 18 cases, two hospitalizations and the county’s one confirmed death reported in Highlands East.  

Reporting data by municipality is a new feature on the dashboard – previously, the health unit would not release that information despite media and public inquiry, citing “the legal responsibility to protect personal health information it has collected under various pieces of legislation such as the Health Protection and Promotion Act.” 

Additionally, wastewater data showing seven-day average COVID-19 wastewater viral signal from Cobourg and Lindsay sewersheds as of January 1 is now available on the health unit’s website. 

“Given lab-confirmed COVID-19 case numbers are no longer a true measure of virus activity in the community due to limits on PCR testing eligibility, we are updating our COVID-19 dashboard to provide a clearer, more current picture of virus activity in our region,” said Bocking.

In 2021, there were 594,713 click-throughs alone from the HKPR website to the online COVID-19 dashboard.

For more information visit hkpr.on.ca. 

Education available to reduce animal bite occurrences 

In 2021, the Environmental health team investigated 604 animal bites.

“This is huge,” said Richard Ovcharovich, manager of the health protection division for the health unit. “Our animal bites have gone through the roof for the last five years.”

Ovcharovich said the health unit is trying to reduce the number of incidents through education of the public, including presentations and information sessions.  

The Keep Bites at Bay presentation for schools was made to 146 elementary students in Grades 1 through 7 at 11 schools in City of Kawartha Lakes.  

“The invitation went out to all schools and all school boards but we only had requests come back from City of Kawartha Lakes Catholic school district,” said Ovcharovich. “So we’re hoping that we’ll have a little more uptake this year in the other jurisdictions.” 

He said 20 animal specimens – seven cats, two dogs, one wolf, seven bats, two raccoons and one horse – had been submitted for rabies testing and all tested negative. Within the health unit region, 47 people were bitten by a wild or stray animal that couldn’t be tested for rabies, so those bitten required post-exposure prophylaxis, or rabies vaccine, including 22 at Ross Memorial Hospital, 13 at Northumberland Hills Hospital, five at Minden’s hospital and two at Haliburton’s hospital, and five at Campbellford Memorial Hospital. 

Surveillance for ticks, West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis 

In order to be added to the provincial Lyme disease map, spring and fall tick dragging has to occur in the same places. Tick dragging was conducted at 14 sites throughout the health unit’s region in the spring and fall – five times each in Northumberland County and City of Kawartha Lakes, and four times in Haliburton County. Through those sessions, 34 tickets were caught. Eight of those ticks tested positive for Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria or spirochete that causes Lyme disease. All positive samples were found in Northumberland County, which is considered an endemic area.

Three students conducted weekly mosquito trapping at 15 sites – five in each of the three counties (Haliburton County, City of Kawartha Lakes, Northumberland County) in the health unit district. Between June 10 and Aug. 26, 2021, 175 traps were submitted, with 18,444 mosquitoes collected. Zero pools tested positive for West Nile Virus, of 347 pools, or for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, of 20 pools.

“That does not mean we don’t have West Nile or EEE in our community,” said Ovcharovich. “It just means we didn’t find it.”

He said testing locations are changed from time to time, and are generally put in high-risk areas such as residential and school areas.

Pandemic resulting in overtime 

The Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, 1996, requires organizations that receive public funding from the province to make public by March 31 the names, positions, salaries and total taxable benefits of employees paid $100,000 or more in the previous calendar year. 

According to a report from Bocking, the health unit is reporting 27 employees who earned over $100,000 in 2021, 10 more than in 2020. 

“That was all pandemic response related, largely overtime,” said Bocking. “In a mix actually between individuals involved in actual COVID response, so case outbreak management, and then also vaccination, with vaccine clinics being high priority and lots of emphasis with very quick turnaround and roll-out times we had a number of employees that supported that initiative.”