The Haldimand Norfolk Board of Health is looking to hire the full-time equivalent of 17 new employees to respond to COVID-19 and ensure other public health programs don’t get lost in the pandemic.
The health board voted in favour of the new hires at a meeting on Oct. 27. The projected cost is $2.6 million and will cover a period ending in Dec. 31, 2021.
“I actually visited the health unit on the weekend and I saw staff working 113 hours of overtime,” Coun. Amy Martin (Ward 6), said. “I witnessed 12 vehicles in our parking lot and I witnessed the close contact tracing and the effort that goes into that.”
She also saw employees who were about to leave work but had to stay because another positive case had been identified, Martin said.
“I hope we can look at the services they provide as a whole for the community and not just health inspections and recognize that additional staff can only further all of those services and keep COVID on track.”
Martin moved the motion to hire 17 employees for a so-called COVID SWAT team after her earlier motion to hire 20 full-time equivalents was lost on a tie vote.
She was supported by Coun. Ian Rabbitts who provided the second for both votes and called the 17 employees – or option three as presented by health unit officials – a compromise for those who wanted to hire fewer employees and those who wanted more.
Councillors Ryan Taylor (Ward 1), Kim Huffman (Ward 7), Tom Masschaele (Ward 1) and Mayor Kristal Chopp also voted in favour of the new hires.
Councillors Chris Van Paassen (Ward 4) and Mike Columbus (Ward 3) voted against the proposal.
The vote came after a detailed presentation by Marlene Miranda, general manager, health and social services and chief nursing officer.
Miranda, using an actual case study, took councillors through the amount of work a single positive case of COVID-19 creates for health unit staff as they try to limit the spread of the virus through contact tracing.
Miranda said the pandemic is taking so much time other provincially-mandated public health programs including those serving children and babies will receive less attention.
The public health response to the pandemic has been unprecedented and is expected to remain a major public health focus for the next 18 to 24 months, Miranda said.
During the initial debate over the addition of 20 new hires councillors Masschaele, Columbus and Van Paassen all spoke in favour of option four which would result in 10 new hires.
Option four was supported by Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt, who sat in on the meeting.
Columbus said if 10 more people isn’t enough to address the problem the issue could be revisited in six months.
Van Paassen acknowledged employees have been working overtime and have moved around their shifts in response to the demands caused by COVID-19. However, he said the province wouldn’t likely be upset if the health unit diverted resources from other programs to help out with COVID-19.
Meanwhile, a decision about making the inspection of bunkhouses of migrant workers program a full cost recovery program was deferred for more information.
The current fee is $101 per address and according to a report prepared for the board, that fee doesn’t cover the entire cost of an inspection.
However, some councillors believe the county should be looking at all such fees not just those related to bunkhouse inspections.