Costs are escalating as Peterborough Public Health (PPH) continues to respond to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
According to its medical officer of health, COVID-19-related expenditures up to Sept. 30 were $2,839,336.
Dr. Rosana Salvaterra told Peterborough County council on Wednesday, those costs include staffing, communications, IT equipment, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).
“COVID has dominated our work at Peterborough Public Health,” Salvaterra said. “From early in the first quarter, programs have been shut down and staff has been redeployed to take on new roles as part of the emergency COVID response.”
Salvaterra told council that most of those costs have been covered largely through the redeployment of staff.
“By September, we were only marginally overbudget,” she said. “The stability of our low number of cases in Peterborough over the summer, allowed us to edge into recovery, slowly bringing back programs online while still continuing most of our COVID work, which has turned us into a seven-days-a-week operation.”
Salvaterra said the projection over budget for yearend is about $471,000, which will be requested from the province for COVID-extraordinary expenses.
“This is despite the fact that there are still many programs on-hold or running on essential services only,” she added. “I hope you will agree that the additional costs for our local COVID response has been well worth it.”
For 2021, PPH is asking the City of Peterborough, Peterborough County, Curve Lake First Nation and Hiawatha First Nation for the exact budget amounts that were allocated in 2020.
That’s $1,330,450 from the City of Peterborough, $928,080 from the county, $10,412 from Curve Lake First Nation and $3,377 from Hiawatha First Nation.
On Nov. 12, the Board of Health approved the 2021 PPH cost-shared budget at $10.496 million, or roughly 0.15 per cent increase over the 2020 budget.
“You will recall that 2020 was the implementation year for public health funding moving from 75-25 provincial-local split to a 70-30 split,” said PPH director of operations Larry Stinson.
“This was going to be phased in and there was to be mitigation funding from the province to hold municipal increases to 10 per cent for the 2020 year.”
Stinson said PPH had to then revise its budget in August due to an increase in that mitigation funding.
“It indicated they increased the mitigation funding so they could hold the local share at 2019 rates. So zero increases for 2020 and continue that same mitigation funding for 2021,” he said.
“As a result, you can see from the revenue side of our budget, the contributions for 2021 are the same as 2020. It’s only possible because of the mitigation funding which is just over $1 million.”
Stinson warned council that if the province does eventually move to the 70-30 funding split, that the $1 million would then fall to the local share.
Asphodel-Norwood Township mayor Rodger Bonneau asked the county director of finance Trena Debruijn if the health board wasn’t asking for more money this year, what was budgeted as a ‘just in case for 2021’ that was already spoken for, and what would be done with that extra money.
“Even though they aren’t asking for an increase now, doesn’t mean they won’t later,” Bonneau said.
Debruijn responded that when the final budget document comes out, she was recommending any extra money go into a reserve to protect the county in-case the funding model changed and more money was required for PPH from the county.
As for impacts in 2021, Dr. Salvaterra said there are a lot of unknowns.
“We will continue to experience increases and decreases in local COVID cases and there will need to be corresponding changes to rules and restrictions. There may be greater need for greater enforcement from public health,” she added.
She also told council that PPH expects to be part of mass immunization for COVID-19, but when and how it will be delivered is still not known.
PPH projects additional costs of $817,593 for increased staffing in the first six months of 2021 due to the pandemic.
“We expect the province to provide this additional funding, but we have no guarantee at this point,” Salvaterra added. “It’s been becoming more clear that with at least three projected rollouts of the COVID-19 vaccines, and that’s what’s been communicated to us by the Federal government at this time, we will be experiencing increased costs well beyond June, possibly into the last quarter of 2021.”
“What I can tell you, for 2021, COVID will continue to dominate in our communities and our work with Peterborough Public Health as we continue to promote and protect health for everyone.”