I had the privilege of speaking at the Ottawa Public Health (OPH) Annual All Staff meeting on January 16th in my role a Chair of the Board of Health. The theme this year was “Welcoming our Future, Together”.
The annual meetings provide an opportunity to network with OPH employees, hear from the Senior Leadership Team, and learn more about key department and Service Area/Branch priorities for 2018.
Some of the points I spoke to were reflecting on 2017- recognizing areas where the organization has grown over the past year, highlighting some public health challenges we have faced, and looking ahead to 2018.
2017 was an extraordinary year for the City of Ottawa and presented unique operational challenges for Ottawa Public Health. As we celebrated Canada’s 150th Birthday, we welcomed many festivals, special events and visitors to the capital. For our team of Public Health Inspectors, this meant a higher number of premises to inspect, especially in the summer.
We also found that other environmental health challenges presented themselves in the summer months. More and more residents this year appeared with ticks for testing. For the first time, more than 20 % of the ticks tested positive for Lyme disease. This made Ottawa a higher risk area for Lyme disease and called for increased vigilance from residents while enjoying the outdoors.
How OPH has responded to many of these challenges accredited to the organization and its people. Inspections were conducted throughout the busy Canada 150 celebrations, protecting residents and Ottawa visitors from food-borne illness. Awareness was raised about Lyme disease
Our Medical Officer of Health spoke before a Senate Committee in support of legislation aimed at reducing barriers to calling for help after an opioid overdose. Naloxone is more widely available in this community than it ever has been. OPH school health nurses provided targeted education in schools and presentations for parents on the subject of substance use. Supervised injection services are now being offered to clients in need, by OPH and other community partners.
There are also many other ways OPH has grown over the year. In the first quarter of last year, we gathered to reflect on health equity and reconciliation with Indigenous people. Some staff went on to take Indigenous Cultural Safety Training and pursue other learning and development.
Finally, I reflected on the leave of Dr. Isra Levy who was the City’s Medical Officer of Health for 10 years and welcomed Dr. Vera Etches as our Interim Medical Officer of Health. I have the utmost confidence that Vera will provide excellent leadership and support in the year ahead.
In 2018, the Board of Health will continue to develop a strategic focus on creating an adaptive workforce, inspiring and supporting healthy eating and active living, fostering mental health, advancing healthy public policy, and preventing infectious disease. As I have read in Board of Health progress reports, a great deal of meaningful work has happened as we shifted more focus towards these areas.
I have faith in the staff at OPH to continue their strong momentum to build, support and educate residents in building a strong and healthy environment for their communities and the City as a whole.