BRUCE COUNTY – Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health for Grey-Bruce, presented the 2022 budget to Bruce County council at the April 7 meeting.
Significantly, the 2022 budget does not require an increase in funding from Bruce or Grey County.
This is the fourth straight year that county costs for public health remain unchanged. Arra noted most health units have requested budget increases, some by up to 10 per cent.
The Bruce County contribution for 2022 will be $1,193,907 (from $1,188,077 in 2021) while Grey County’s is $1,671,756 (from $1,676,830). The overall contribution by both counties is $2,864,907, the same as in 2021.
The reason for the shift is due to a population increase in Bruce County.
The health unit’s total budget is $19,406,524, a decrease of $936,000 from 2021. This includes health ministry funding of $11,047 and special COVID-19 funding of $4,033,434, as well as the county contribution, non-health ministry program funding and other revenues.
Arra noted that the local health unit managed to mount a full emergency response to COVID-19 in 2020 with provincial extraordinary funding (EF) equivalent to only six per cent of its base budget.
The year 2021 brought the rollout of the mass vaccination program, but still required EF of only about 28 per cent of its budget. Arra referred to it as “an extraordinary story of success.”
He credited that success to “excellent financial and operational management, and effective mobilization of the community and partners to engage in the emergency response.”
Arra noted that throughout COVID, many health unit programs continued, which was not necessarily the case elsewhere in the province. This included chronic disease and injury prevention, and mental health promotion.
Restaurant inspections were put on pause, and the local health unit is “having to play catch-up” with its regular (non-COVID) vaccination program.
He outlined strategic directions for the next several years, with the aim of becoming a Centre of Excellence in Rural Public Health.
The short-term focus will be on the continued monitoring of COVID-19, dealing with the school immunization backlog, dental health, vision screening, school health programs, sexual health programs and harm reduction, as well as supporting newcomers from Ukraine.
The program for mental health and substance abuse actually got going in 2021, when the health unit was managing an outbreak of COVID-19 at a rooming house in Hanover. Through partnering with other organizations, the result was very successful. Arra noted it’s been “replicated in five other communities… the model has been recommended nationally.”
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times