The COVID pandemic has consumed Hamilton’s public health resources so much that the city has not been able to offer a full list of regular services since March 2020.
During Monday’s board of health meeting, city councilors heard that the ongoing lawsuit related to COVID-19 has meant that public health employees have been reassigned to other locations for 18 months, and it’s unclear when will change that.
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Immunizations for elementary school children for diseases like hepatitis B, meningococcal disease and HPV have declined significantly, despite a “catch-up” campaign last year.
Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton’s medical director of health, said those are “three very important immunizations that children should receive just before they become adolescents and young adults.”
Hepatitis B vaccination has fallen from 71% coverage in 2019 to 18% this year.
Meanwhile, meningococcal vaccination has gone from 89 percent two years ago to 24 percent, and the HPV vaccination rate has gone from 62 percent in 2019 to just 7 percent now.
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Since the pandemic began, there have been no pest control inspections, no standing water, or food handler certifications.
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According to Dr. Richardson, those inspectors are primarily conducting infection prevention and control inspections in settings such as nursing homes and on farms that employ migrant workers.
Routine compliance inspections of personal services environments have also been suspended and are based on complaints only at this time. As a result, 43 inspections were conducted this year, compared to just over 1,000 in 2019.
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District 6 councilor Tom Jackson said he heard residents complain of an increase in rodents and problems with standing water, which may contribute to an increased risk of West Nile virus.
“These are localized issues, people worried about possible diseases, infections, West Nile, rodents, and to be told: ‘Look, public health is linked to the pandemic,’ they understand, but they are also saying, ‘but what Does it happen within our neighborhoods, Councilor Jackson? “
He asked Dr. Richardson if more funding could help mitigate the staff shortage, but the city’s top doctor said more money won’t help if there simply aren’t enough people to work in those positions.
“Everyone is trying … but the competition is fierce for what few resources are left.”
More than 100 positions included in the 2021 public health budget have remained empty, according to Dr. Richardson.
He said there are several reasons for staff shortages, including turnover and people moving from job to job.
“You are also seeing the effects of burnout, whether staff make the decision to retire earlier than originally planned or need to take time out, those things are happening too.
“So, unfortunately, until we go through this phase and we can reduce the commitment to COVID, we will have to continue to make concessions in terms of what (we can) do and what we cannot do.”
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Other things public health lists as “on hold” during the pandemic include:
- tobacco control (not based on complaints)
- smoking cessation clinics
- tobacco hotline
- drug strategy
- prenatal and parenting groups, face-to-face home visits
- additional treatment capacity dental clinics
- food safety – non-urgent complaints
- construction / planning application feedback
- low-risk food premises inspections
- health hazards: complaints and non-urgent reviews
- Lyme tick shipments
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