After 18 months of COVID-19 program delays and cancellations, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge (HKPR) District Health Unit said it’s unable to meet demands due to provincial government underfunding.

While Doug Ford’s government has committed to reimbursing health units for COVID-19-related costs, that won’t cover the price of restarting programs cancelled by the pandemic, the health unit said.

HKPR reports that 2,400 students have missed school-based immunizations, more than 70 drinking water systems are overdue for inspections and 5,300 children have not received regular oral health screening.

“We are reaching a point locally that if we don’t start to catch up on these services the backlog will become too large of a hurdle to overcome,” wrote HKPR board chairperson Doug Elmslie in a Sept. 16 letter to Minister of Health Christine Elliott.

Since then, said HKPR chief medical officer of health, Dr. Natalie Bocking, in an Oct. 13 press conference, the health unit hasn’t “had communication from the province or an acknowledgment of the number of other additional expenses health units are accruing in regards to catch-up activities and recovery activities.”


Current base funding levels, which have only been increased once in five years, can’t cover the costs of restarting all these programs, she said.

“To do those catchup activities within our budgets, I don’t believe that’s a reasonable expectation.”

Additional required programs such as vision screening, infection prevention and control complaints, swimming pool inspections, as well as inflation and rising salary costs, also stretch the budget, Elmslie noted.

“This means that we were already under-resourced to respond to an infectious disease emergency, as well as implement routine public health priorities prior to the pandemic,” Elmslie wrote.

The health unit, responsible for enforcement, education and programs related to mental health, addiction, family services, and more, says its work might not be as easy to see as emergency services.

“We hear a lot about things like surgical backlogs and the gaps in other things like cancer screening in the acute health care system,” Bocking said. “We hear very little about the backlog in public health. We’re not as visible and people are not as familiar with the work we do.”

MPP Laurie Scott did not directly address the health unit’s question of additional funding, but said she’s confident the province’s new chief medical officer, Keiran Moore, will work for positive change.

“He’s going to be leading, [talking about] what happened, what can we do better. Word will come on that,” she said.

Scott said the difficulties incurred by public health units during COVID offer opportunities to “modernize.”

Previously, the Ontario government reduced its funding of public health units by five per cent, meaning municipalities are responsible for 30 per cent of public health costs, as opposed to 25 per cent. The County of Haliburton contributed $463,508 in 2020.

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