HURON-PERTH – Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH) released its first comprehensive annual report since Huron and Perth health units merged to become HPPH in January 2020.
Included in the report were heartfelt appreciation from HPPH board chair Kathy Vassilakos and vice-chair Dave Jewitt regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and recovery, plus other activities unrelated to the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the daily routine of our lives and challenged our sense of time and place, which makes it difficult to know what day it is, let alone what year,” Vassilakos wrote. “I am grateful for the work of HPPH employees and would like to acknowledge both their public-facing and behind-the-scenes efforts. I would also like to thank all the volunteers and community and municipal partners who made the mass vaccination clinics possible.
“While it is easy to focus on the pandemic, I would like to take a moment to highlight a few non-COVID-19 activities. Mother and Young Child Clinics, Healthy Babies Healthy Children, Healthy Smiles Ontario, and the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program are just a few of the HPPH programs that continued in some capacity throughout 2021.”
Jewitt wrote, “As vice-chair of the HPPH Board of Health, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the staff at HPPH for their hard work and dedication on behalf of the residents in Huron and Perth counties.
“I firmly believe that with the commitment to providing exceptional public health from our staff, oversight by our board and the continued support of our community members, that HPPH will continue to play an integral role in our community well-being,” he added.
Medical Officer of Health and HPPH CEO Miriam Klassen said, “This report provides a high-level summary of the extraordinary work that was completed in 2021 to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 while also maintaining other critical public health programs and services.
“HPPH staff investigated 3,186 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, supported the management of 85 outbreaks, and led the roll out of the largest mass vaccination program in the history of Huron-Perth, providing over 250,000 vaccine doses in collaboration with numerous community partners.”
Klassen also said, “I want to thank the board for their ongoing leadership and support. To HPPH staff – you may recall my comments from early in the pandemic when I advised we needed to prepare for a marathon, not a sprint. Thank you! You have run the race well! It has been an honour to work with you and I am proud of what we have achieved together.”
The report highlighted HPPH’s management of cases and outbreaks in 2021. There were 3,186 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases. These included 196 cases in healthcare workers, 554 cases in school-aged children (4-18 years), 112 hospitalized, and 88 cases in children (less than four years) in childcare.
Fifty-two Huron-Perth residents have died due to COVID-19.
A majority of the 85 outbreaks occurred in long-term care homes, which recorded 18 outbreaks. Additionally, there were 28 cases from workplaces, 16 in schools, eight in congregate living settings, six at retirement homes, and two each at hospitals and childcare settings.
The COVID intake team responded to 20,014 inquiries. The top three questions were about vaccines and COVID illness case/isolation government regulations.
2021 saw the largest vaccine rollout in history. Initially, the vaccine supply was minimal and focused on the province’s most vulnerable residents, those living in long-term care and retirement homes. As supply increased and became stable, eligibility expanded. HPPH held 282 mass vaccination clinics – 133 in Huron County and 149 in Perth County. A total of 254,723 vaccine doses were administered by HPPH and its partners.
HPPH public health inspectors’ priorities in 2021 were to “provide education and enforcement related to the Reopening Ontario Act, provincial orders, public health measures and workplace inspections. The team supported two successful Multi-Ministry Team COVID-19 inspection and education blitzes, developed many resources and hosted workplace webinars to educate operators on the importance of COVID-19 prevention measures.”
The report said that HPPH prioritized support for vulnerable community members during isolation periods by providing support such as groceries, cleaning supplies, pharmacy deliveries, other essential goods, and transportation or accommodations.
One hundred and seven parties received grocery support, and three were provided accommodations. Where possible, individuals and families were linked to other community services, including social services, financial aid, food banks, and churches.
Mobile testing and mobile vaccinations clinics for people who faced barriers were provided by Huron County and Perth County paramedics, the report said. Paramedic partners and facility staff assisted at some of these clinics.
HPPHʼs response to COVID required significant resources. As a result, many staff were redeployed from regular programs and services for over two years. On average, public health units in Ontario diverted 78 per cent of all available resources to the COVID response.
“While this annual report provides a snapshot of our COVID-19 work in 2021, we’ll be releasing additional reports over time that provide more detailed information on our COVID response over the entire pandemic, starting in March of 2020,” said Klassen.
HPPH continued to provide non-COVID services during 2021
Seven clinics took place in Perth County and six in Huron County. Hepatitis B, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), and Meningococcal vaccines were offered.
Infectious Disease: In 2021, the team supported local investigations into recalled frozen mangoes suspected of Hepatitis A contamination. Despite being heavily involved with COVID-19 disease outbreak management, the team conducted investigations of over 150 diseases of public health significance (DoPHS).
HPPH provided basic programming to protect health, prevent and reduce health hazards, and mitigate disease risks in both built and natural environments. A total of 1,799 inquiries and investigations were completed.
The health line for HPPH received 2,805 inquiries for topics ranging from COVID to preventable diseases, mental health, and chronic disease, among others.
Healthy pregnancies, plus growth and development programs, saw 61 families receive Healthy Babies Healthy Children home visiting services (two or more home/virtual visits), about one-third of pre-pandemic levels.
The sexual health clinic saw 2,054 visits and reported 369 sexually transmitted infection cases investigated (chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis).
Throughout the pandemic, HPPH continued to provide harm reduction supplies, including naloxone, to clients and community partners. Nearly 1,100 Naloxone kits distributed to clients and community partners.
In 2021, HPPH also developed its new vision, mission, and values statements, which will guide the organization in continued efforts to optimize health for all in Huron-Perth.
Vassilakos said, “As the Board of Health continues to support the work of HPPH, we remain united in our commitment to equity and evidence-informed decision making and to the vision, mission and values of HPPH. It is through these values that we meet our obligation to protect the health of all the residents of Huron and Perth counties.”
Cory Bilyea, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wingham Advance Times