Health unit asks for 5 per cent more from city in 2022

By Kirk Winter

Dr. Bocking, Medical Officer of Health at HKPRDHU
Dr. Natalie Bocking.

Dr. Natalie Bocking, medical officer of health for the Haliburton-Kawartha-Pine Ridge District Health Unit, has requested a five percent increase in the local public health unit levy. This would see Kawartha Lakes contributing $112,477 more than they did in 2021, bringing the total city levy to $2.362 million for 2022.

Bocking reminded council as she laid out the reasons for the increase, that the province identifies minimum expectations for public health and the services they provide. The province, in most cases, determines the mandates for the health unit and what the health unit enforces and what it doesn’t.

“Our priorities are health assessment and surveillance, health protection, health promotion, health policy and emergency preparedness,” Bocking said. “Our mandate is the prevention of disease and promotion of health for all.”

She told councillors that HKPRDHU has multiple mandates beyond COVID and they include working towards a healthy environment, safe water, healthy growth and development for children, school health checks and immunizations, substance abuse and injury prevention, chronic disease prevention and mental health well-being.

“We are driven by evidence and data,” Bocking said. “Investing in prevention is much cheaper that a trip to an emergency room. In the last 18 months many programs have been put on hold and are slowly starting to re-open, including our sexual health clinics and our school based immunization programs. We have 2400 Grade 7 and 8 students who missed their immunizations last year.”

Bocking also said that the oral health programs and vision screening done in schools are still off-line and gave no date for either of their returns.

“We are facing a reduction in provincial funding for programming that used to be 100 percent covered and now will only be covered 70/30 by the province, “ Bocking shared.

In 2020 that change in how programs were covered by the ministry of health left HKPRDHU with a shortfall of $1.217 million to run their multitude of programming. In both 2020 and 2021, Kawartha Lakes saw a 10 percent increase in their levy to make up for the provincial shortfalls in funding.

“We have attempted to mitigate our costs this year by closing our office in Brighton and looking at offering more services on-line,” Bocking said.

With these savings factored in, the health unit  is going to Northumberland County, the City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County asking for an across the board 5 percent increase in the health unit levies the constituent municipalities pay.

Councillor Pat Dunn wanted to know if HKPRDU is still receiving additional mitigating funding from the province as the unit transitions to the new 70/30 cost sharing model.

“We received additional funds in 2020, 2021 and 2022,”Bocking answered. “In 2021 the subsidy amounted to $778,000. There is no guarantee that we receive anymore after 2022.”

“We had better keep working with the province to make sure you keep receiving that funding,” Dunn said.

Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan had a battery of questions for Dr. Bocking including who pays all the costs incurred by the pandemic, what HKPRDHU staffing looks like and has the health unit hired additional health inspectors during the pandemic.

“The province is covering all costs of the pandemic,” Bocking said. “We have billed the province and received 49 percent of our total costs back so far. We are waiting for over a million dollars still to be transferred to us by the province.”

Bocking told Seymour-Fagan that all the hiring done for the COVID injection clinics was contract labour, and that the salaries of vaccinators were paid by the province. The only real hire made by public health during the pandemic was one additional public health inspector at the cost of $80,000.

Deputy-mayor Pat O’Reilly wanted to know if any staff lost their jobs when the Brighton office was closed. Councillor Doug Elmslie, who represents the city on the HKPRDHU board, answered saying no staff lost their jobs as they were relocated to Port Hope. The savings to public health were in rent and utilities that no longer need to be paid.

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