GUELPH – So far, COVID-19 has cost Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) about $1 million – mainly in extra staffing, extended hours and pandemic supplies – and the agency doesn’t know how much compensation the province may provide to help balance its books by year end.
David Kingma, director of administrative services, told the board of health on June 3 that by the end of the first quarter of 2020 the agency was showing a $65,000 surplus, mainly due to the timing of revenue and expenses.
The financial impact of the virus will begin to show in the second quarter, he said, “but as of last Friday, it’s close to $1 million.”
About $800,000 of that is for staff, as the health unit deployed almost all its staff to COVID-19 duties, hired more staff and extended its hours. There was also significant overtime for existing staff.
About $200,000 went to COVID-19 supplies such as personal protective equipment for staff.
“We don’t anticipate costs will increase at the same rate,” said Kingma.
“It was high gear in the beginning. But in the future, we will continue to see costs.”
Kingma said he has received two letters from the Ministry of Health indicating $100 million has been set aside to help health units across the province with COVID-19 costs.
“It’s not clear on the rate of reimbursement,” he said.
“The province could cover the full amount or a percentage. We just don’t know at this time.”
Kingma said there were some cost-savings as programs shut down, “but these savings don’t outweigh the COVID-19 costs.”
WDGPH’s medical officer of health said she’s in favour of taking a regional approach to reopening the province, a notion Premier Doug Ford has come around to in the past couple of weeks.
Dr. Nicola Mercer told the board the province has been working on establishing criteria for such an approach and WDGPH has provided information on “local enhancements.”
“I think it’s the right approach,” she said. “Wellington County is quite different than Peel. And restarting the economy is incredibly important.
“It has to be a safe reopening.”
Mercer said she doesn’t have the power to override a provincial order.
“As medical officer of health, I can’t contradict the province. I can make things more restrictive (locally); I can’t make it less restrictive.”
Mercer also told the board that COVID-19 assessment centres will be around until a vaccine is widely available.
She said the Guelph assessment centre is seeing about 200 people a day; Orangeville “is close to that, and there’s been an uptick in Mount Forest.
“As people go back to work, we need to test more … Until we have a vaccine, we will need these centres.”
In an aside, Mercer said there’s been a decrease in other infectious diseases like STDs, “and influenza dropped of the face of the earth in March.”
All WDGPH departments have experienced change since COVID-19 and most staff were redeployed to COVID-19 duties such as staffing the call centre, contact tracing, meeting with associated health agencies, keeping municipalities informed, helping businesses reopen, and collecting data on active and recovered cases and reporting them appropriately.
It’s been a massive undertaking, Mercer said.
As restrictions are lifted, public health is working out how it can resume services and classes, and begin offering other non-COVID-19-related activities.
The board acknowledged that most departments will not be able to meet their service plan agreements this year.