Ottawa

Some Ottawa Public Health programs slowly returning

Ottawa's public health agency is getting ready to restart some community programs that were suspended indefinitely at the start of the pandemic, but the city's medical officer of health says not all will return in quite the same way as before.

1 of 4 dental clinics open; breastfeeding support program at 50% capacity

Ottawa Public Health had to put a number of its community programs on the back burner this spring because of the strain the COVID-19 pandemic put on its resources, such as work on testing and contact tracing. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has begun ramping up some community programs that were suspended at the start of the pandemic, but the city's medical officer of health said not all will return to their pre-COVID-19 selves.

The pandemic didn't just throw OPH's budget into disarray but also how it offered many of its services, including chronic disease prevention work.

"These kinds of teams are completely redeployed to the COVID-19 response," said Dr. Vera Etches, the city's medical officer of health, on Monday.

OPH also had to shutter its four dental clinics across the city that offered services to people who had difficulties paying for care elsewhere.

The St. Laurent Boulevard clinic reopened for emergency services last week, while the Wabano Centre clinic should reopen part time on Thursday, Etches said.

Ottawa's medical officer of health Vera Etches during a school visit in early September. Etches says some of OPH's programs have gone virtual, while others have been scaled back or cancelled altogether. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Those clinics together saw 140 clients a day before the pandemic hit, said OPH's director of health promotion and chief nursing officer Esther Moghadam, and the hope is to get the other two open so vulnerable populations have easier access to one nearby. 

While the clinics were closed, Moghadam said dentists across the community stepped up to help and will likely have to continue to do so until the clinics are at full capacity.

"It's still very early … There is going to be a need that we won't be able to address fully," she said.

Another program that fell by the wayside was the Healthy Growth and Development Program, which Etches said is currently running at 50 per cent capacity.

Its breastfeeding support work is moving online or having mothers come to OPH or other community partners instead of nurses visiting them in their homes.

Two mothers breastfeed their babies in Spain in a file photo. Ottawa Public Health's Healthy Growth and Development Program, which offers breastfeeding support, is running at about 50 per cent capacity and has had to prioritize who gets an at-home visit from a public health nurse. (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

Not all programs are set to return to the way they once were.

"We're looking to learn from the new tools we have, the innovative approaches that can be built upon and the partnerships that we have grown to extend some of this work into the future," said Etches.

That future shift includes those services tailored at chronic diseases, which she said will change because private companies have been stepping up to help protect and promote employee health.

COVID-19 in 2021

Ottawa's Board of Health unanimously passed its largest budget ever at its meeting Monday night, with $24 million of its $98.1 million budget for 2021 expected to cover a number of one-time COVID-19 expenses

Even with positive vaccine updates, Etches said next year's budget forecasts a similar amount of COVID-19 cases, outbreaks, follow-up and communication work in 2021 as exists now.

It is also expecting to help provide that COVID-19 vaccine to Ottawa residents "which we are hopeful, initially, will protect against hospitalizations and deaths in the people most at risk," she said.

"That would be excellent."

The budget will go to city council for final approval on Dec. 9.

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