By Sam Gillet and Lisa Gervais

Post-COVID improvements

The HKPR District Health Unit has identified 12 areas of staffing, workplace culture and operations to focus on as it plans a post-COVID-19 recovery.

A COVID recovery working group, established in the summer of 2021, spent September interviewing more than 100 staff about areas of improvement, and what the health unit did well throughout the past two years.

“The goal of this framework is to consider the impact of the pandemic and consider the lessons we’ve learned, rather than simply returning to a pre-COVID state,” said Lorna McLeary, a manager in the health promotion division.


She presented the working group’s findings at a Jan. 20, 2022 board of health meeting.

Some themes that arose during interviews included: continued engagement with community leaders; partners and volunteers; balancing the stress of working multiple roles; the importance of maintaining a feeling of tight-knit community on staff teams; program planning based on population size; prioritizing equal access to health services and maintaining the health unit’s public visibility.

McLeary said the results are a “starting point for decision-making” when it comes to the planning and execution of health unit programs.

Risk management update

Ontario health units are required to have a risk management plan detailing operational dangers and plans to minimize them. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking said the health unit’s progress on implementing the plan has been “stymied by COVID-19 several times now.”

Developed in 2018, a risk management framework lays out eight top dangers the organization could face: failure to develop, implement and evaluate a robust people strategy; inadequate records management system; loss of funding; compromised personal health information; improperly managed procurement opportunities; noncompliance of infection, prevention, and control practices; Ontario Public Health Service program compliance and payroll fraud.

COVID drives communication uptick

Dr. Bocking said the HKPR communications team continues to be “extremely busy” with COVID-19 adding new tasks and initiatives to the department’s workload.

Along with facilitating 47 media information sessions in 2021, they fielded 2,201 media inquiries and issued 85 press releases.

The health unit’s website traffic has doubled to 2,674,418 webpage views and a 1,245 increase in the unit’s YouTube following.

Dr. Bocking said the health unit has focused on increasing the use of social media to spread health messaging, and user interaction on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, which have risen since 2020.

Quit tobacco for good

If your New Year’s resolution to go tobacco-free in 2022 has already gone up in smoke, now’s the time to get back on track, the health unit said.

“If your goal is to quit in 2022, there are many resources available to help you succeed,” said Karen Taylor, a public health nurse with the HKPR District Health Unit.

Area residents 18 years and older are urged to sign up for STOP on the NET. If they qualify for the program, participants will be mailed a free eight-week supply of nicotine patches to help them quit smoking.

“Nicotine patches greatly improve the chances of quitting smoking, but some people may not be able to afford them,” Taylor said. “With STOP on the NET, nicotine patches are provided free of charge and this initiative has helped many people successfully quit their tobacco addiction once and for all.”

STOP on the Net also has many resources to assist people trying to quit, including Talking About Vaping videos that address different aspects of e-cigarette use.

“COVID-19 has been very stressful on people’s physical and mental health, and may lead to tobacco use for some individuals,” Taylor said. “It’s incredible what you stand to gain from going tobacco-free, and the good news is that you reap the benefits right away.”

Sexual health clinics on hold

The health unit has put a pause on offering sexual health clinics in the region due to its COVID-19 response.

It said it is “for the time being so that nurses and other staff can be redeployed to pandemic response.” The decision came as COVID-19 cases were on the rise in the region.

Clients who had an appointment booked are being contacted directly to make alternate arrangements.

The Health Unit encourages anyone with concerns relating to their sexual health to contact their primary care provider or attend a walk-in clinic.

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