It’s been a long couple of months trying to adjust to the COVID pandemic and find some resemblance of a normal routine. For some it’s meant working from home, potentially homeschooling our children and isolating yourselves. For other’s it’s meant braving the outdoors, working overtime trying to stock shelves, handle customers, set up online shopping capabilities, cleaning facilities, and treating and caring for patients. I think we can all agree that we’ve had to rethink the value we place on certain professions. Our community grocery, pharmacy, farm, transportation and health care workers deserve our sincere gratitude for their support and helping us navigate these challenging times.

So, what has changed at the Region? Overall, almost every aspect of our operations has seen significant and swift modifications since the emergency proclamation. These have either created an opportunity for cost savings or significant budgetary strain and, like most municipalities across Ontario if not Canada, the Region is projecting a steep deficit. In working with local municipal treasurers, our financial team has projected a combined Niagara deficit of $7.5 million. The Regional portion accounts for approximately $2.9 million. Other municipalities have experienced significant financial strain and will be lobbying the Province and Federal Governments for support in addressing these deficits. However, moving forward, now more than ever the streamlining of services, and harmonization, will be more important. We must act quickly in responding to our financial pressures.

Every department has experienced change including impacts to staffing levels, enhanced cleaning procedures and the need for personal protective equipment. But no unit has been impacted to the degree that our Public Health Unit has, who were really thrust into the limelight on this issue. This unit began planning for a COVID-19 response as far back as January 8th. A Public Health Emergency Operations Centre was partially established on January 28thand fully activated by March 9th. At this time the unit need to redeploy staff in order to meet the demands of performing case, contact and outbreak management, communications, and also support our health care and social services sector.

Normally our case, contact and outbreak management team is staffed with 12 employees who work entirely on the 75 diseases of public health significance (such as measles, influenza, HIV etc.), which still persisttoday and must continue to be managed.  This unit had to adapt quickly by creating an entire call centre of public health nurses to respond to inquires from the public, health care professionals and doctors on a variety of platforms, but also perform contact-tracing for confirmed cases. There was an additional need for public health inspectors to respond to questions about cleaning and sanitation. As a result, an addition 45 full time and 20 part time staff were redeployed to this unit to handle the workload, meaning other programs and services they typically supported had to be put on hold.

When you contemplate the extent of change for this department, the degree to which they’ve been thrown into the spotlight, and how quickly they’ve had to adapt to a continually evolving situation, it’s quite extraordinary. This unit has truly come together in a short period of time with little information, under pressure and with tight timelines, to prioritize and ensure the safety of our community. I can’t imagine it’s been easy and I applaud their diligence and dedication. Our community is safer for it.

These types of changes are reflective of our other departments as well, where the organization has had to dedicate resources to emergency operations and adjust their routines, services and support. The Region has not been able to reduce staffing simply because nearly all of our programs and servicing are essential. This includes our care homes, homelessness services, waste management, seniors’ services, children’s services (which has been supporting front line workers), and housing. We’ve significantly scaled back on transit and, like everyone, have seen an escalation in our technology services to support remote work.

Overall, the change has been monumental, and as our community opens up on Friday, our diligence in following public health recommendations for physical distancing, handwashing and staying home where possible needs to be met with equal response. We all want to avoid another wave. Let’s keep up the momentum.

On a final note I would like to extend my best wishes to our community on this special weekend. It’s been a difficult few months but our love ones make it a bit easier. To the world you are a dad, but to a family you are the world. Happy Father’s Day everyone!