COVID-19 caused seismic shifts in day to day operations for the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit. Whether implementing protective measures, coordinating online meeting schedules, or determining which programs could safely be run, the unit was forced to pivot in nearly all departments. Now, they’re charting a path back to normalizing service delivery.

At a virtual Board of Health meeting Sept. 16, chief medical of health Dr. Natalie Bocking said while COVID-19 protective measures aren’t going away, now is the time to determine how they can restart services halted during the pandemic and reorient current programs to suit postpandemic health needs.

She said the path forward for the region’s health services means “learning to live with COVID-19” after the fourth wave. Core programs, such as health inspections, immunizations and work with vulnerable communities, have been running throughout the pandemic. Other programs are restarting this fall, like dental and sexual health clinics.

Some services remain offline or are running at reduced levels. These include school immunizations, in-person food handler training, oral and vision screening, as well as a broad suite of awareness campaigns around sexual health, climate change and health promotion.“These programs can’t remain offline indefinitely,” Bocking said.

The health unit’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan Framework is a master plan outlining how the health unit will recover from the pandemic. It’s guided by a board of multiple members of the district’s health services team, who have been meeting regularly since June.

The plan seeks to “identify the lessons learned, and incorporate them into [the health unit’s] normal going forward,” explained Lorna McCleary, a health promotion manager and co-chair of the recovery planning team. That includes changing how health unit programs are planned and implemented in light of COVID-19 concerns.

Much of what the plan will look like, and when it will be implemented, is still unknown, pending guidance on COVID-19 concerns. There’s still uncertainty regarding COVID-19 immunization plans for 1-5 year-olds, booster shots, new variants and the extent of the predicted fourth wave.

“All of this is going to impact our capacity to move forward,” McCleary said.

Requests five per cent municipal funding bump

The board voted in favour of a 2022 budget totalling $22,005,474, partially funded by a $15,554,500 allotment from the Ministry of Health for the upcoming fiscal year. The HKPR’s budget factors in a reduction in personnel costs, which will be covered through reserve funds. It’s $281,082 less than the health unit’s 2021 budget, largely due to a projected decrease in COVID-19 costs.

The pandemic cost the HKPR health unit $1,941,187 between April and June, 2020. That includes staffing costs, equipment and PPE purchases and more. $920,910 was spent on COVID-19 vaccination efforts alone.

Ontario’s Ministry of Health has granted the health unit $1,618,300 in one-time funding for the 2021-22 fiscal year, and up to $264,000 in one-time funding for 2022-23. Those funds will help make up the deficit caused by COVID-19 costs, said Angela Vickery, HKPR’s manager of corporate services. With vaccination rates up, the health unit is planning for fewer COVID-19 related costs in 2022, even though Ontario currently faces a fourth wave.

“We will not require the same amount of resources in 2022 as we did in 2021,” Vickery said. The board also voted for a five per cent increase in municipal funding from the County of Northumberland, Haliburton County, and the City of Kawartha Lakes. The County of Haliburton contributed $463,508 in 2020.

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