By Stephen Petrick
The local health unit hopes to resume some of its services in the coming months, if the Omicron variant wanes.
The Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District health unit’s school-based immunization program has been on and off since the start of the pandemic, but the unit intends to resume it by May.
Also, the unit’s sexual health clinic, which has been off since the fall, may start in April.
However, several other important programs will remain off for the time being, such as food handler training programs, and sexual health education programs in schools.
The health unit is also awaiting direction from the Ministry of Health on whether it can resume oral health screening programs in schools by March or April.
The news was delivered by medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking in a presentation to Haliburton County councillors at their Jan. 26 virtual meeting.
The presentation was to give an overview of the full scope of the health unit’s services. The pandemic has put public health services under a much bigger spotlight, Bocking said. The health unit has been thrust into running COVID vaccine clinics and other pandemic-related tasks, but, eventually it will have to resume many of its traditional services, which have been limited due to shutdowns and staff being deployed to work on more pressing emergencies.
“At the height of each of the waves, I would estimate that 80 per cent of our resources have been dedicated to COVID response,” Bocking said, explaining that work is mostly related to contact tracing and running vaccine clinics.
The daunting new challenges have led to new financial pressures. The unit’s 2022 budget included a five per cent increase on the municipal tax levy and Haliburton County taxpayers now contribute to $535,352 to the unit (additional money has also come from provincial taxpayers).
“We continue to be surprised by COVID and what it continues to bring,” Bocking said. “We’ve had to try and have multiple contingency plans.”
Bocking said the health unit now must find a way to resume services and catch up for lost time, but still have plans in place for staff to be re-deployed elsewhere, if necessary, because “COVID-19 is not going anywhere.”
“We have areas that need significant catch up dedication. There’s a huge cohort of children who have not had preventative oral health screening. We know that childhood immunizations are behind .. it’s going to take several years to catch up.”