Ottawa Public Health drafts $128M budget for 2023

Ottawa Public Health has introduced its draft 2023 budget.

The draft budget, to be debated over the next month before all city budgets are approved on March 1, includes $128 million in expenditures.

The base budget is going up by $1.24 million this year, which falls within the 2.5 per cent cap prescribed by Mayor Mark Sutcliffe.

The public health unit is proposing to spend $77 million on base programs and another $51 million on COVID-19 in 2023.

The Ontario government covers 70 per cent of the OPH budget and all one-time COVID-19 spending. The city covers the remaining 30 per cent. This year, OPH is expecting to receive $99 million in provincial funding and $27 million from the city. Another $1.4 million will be raised through other revenue sources, such as fees.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches says 2023 is another transitional budget, similar to the past two years, because of the ongoing threat of COVID-19.

“It’s a hybrid of our regular base funding and COVID supports that we expect from the province,” Etches said before thanking the provincial government for funding extraordinary COVID-19 expenses.

In her verbal report at the board meeting, prior to the draft budget being introduced, Etches said she anticipates COVID-19 will continue to cause considerable sickness and death this year.

“COVID-19 remains concerningly elevated in Ottawa, with each successive wave never really getting down to that low baseline,” she said. “The hospitals are continuing to feel the impact of COVID and… Ottawa saw as many deaths from COVID in 2022 as there were in the first year of COVID in 2020.”

OPH recorded 381 deaths from COVID-19 in 2020, 228 deaths in 2021, and 381 deaths in 2022. The city surpassed 1,000 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic on Jan. 5, 2023. So far this year, there have been 16 deaths from COVID-19, according to the most recent data.

“Clearly, COVID-19 is far from over,” Etches said. “The pandemic causing as many deaths in its third year as in its first was largely due to highly-transmissible variants that caused more infections. There was a reduction in mask usage and there’s been slowing uptake of COVID-19 vaccination and increasing social interactions indoors. These all give rise to increased opportunities for transmission and we see that these factors will continue to make COVID-19 a significant factor for illness and death into 2023.”

The World Health Organization said Monday that COVID-19 remains a global health emergency.

Etches also said efforts continue to help catch children up on routine vaccinations that were disrupted by the pandemic, especially because of school closures. Uptake of school-based vaccines, including Hepatitis B, human papilloma virus, and meningococcal disease, are on the rise. OPH’s immunization coverage is above average, compared to other health units in Ontario, Etches said. The uptake, however, remains lower than it was pre-pandemic.

Public delegations will be able to speak to the 2023 health budget at a meeting on Feb. 27, where the Board of Health will finalize and approve it before it is submitted to city council March 1. 

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