Medical Officer of Health Dr. Elizabeth Richardson delivered a nasty surprise to members of the Board of Health with a request to hire 92 full time staff to deal with the aftermath of COVID19. Richardson told council that COVID related testing and contact tracing will probably continue until the end of next year and the members of her staff who have been re-deployed to handle COVID to date need to go back to their regular jobs. Councillors wanted to know what would happen if the additional staff were not hired. The staff report said a number of ongoing public health services would have to be curtailed. Thw report read: “PHS programming would need to be significantly curtailed and the associated staff redeployed to COVID-19. This means that programs and services such as the following would not be available to Hamilton residents to the same extent: Pest control, and school dental and vision screening, would be paused. Other school programs would be put on an urgent basis only. The healthy growth and development programs would pause face-to-face prenatal and parenting classes. The sexual health clinic would operate one day a week only and only at the downtown location, and smoking prevention would be paused.
Dr Richardson expressed confidence that the cost of the additional staff will be paid by the province out of its special COVID-19 emergency fund. Councillor Brad Clark was unsuccessful in getting the motion amended to make the hiring contingent on provincial funding. In making the motion Clark raised another staffing issue—namely how can it be, as a recent staff report indicated, that out of nearly 8,000 municipal employees that only 42 were declared redundant. “During the last few months, I couldn’t get urgent pothole and sidewalk issues addressed, and yet we are told all but 42 staff have work to do.” He suggested the reason staff are being kept on the payroll with not much to do is to maximize the amount of money that Hamilton will be eligible to receive from senior governments. “We need to mitigate our losses now,” he said, “because we don’t know how much money we will be getting from the province and Ottawa.”
Council approved spending $2 Million to the end of the year to pay for 74 new staffers. Another 17 staffers would be paid for from a separate provincial pool of funds. The program could cost $6 Million if the COVID pandemic and aftermath continues to the end of next year.