The COVID-19 pandemic occupied public health officials in Haldimand-Norfolk, but problems like drug addiction, poverty and homelessness did not go away.
A community survey conducted in 2022 found residents remain concerned about the widening wealth gap, the high cost of food and housing, and the difficulty accessing transportation, child care, mental-health counseling and primary health care in the rural counties.
But the pandemic also birthed a new challenge — due to poor communication and the debates over vaccinations and lockdowns, more residents are now mistrustful or even fearful of public health.
“Participants expressed that community trust in HNHSS was damaged during the pandemic,” according to a community needs assessment report released on May 2 by Haldimand-Norfolk’s health and social services division.
The report is based on data collected from more than 1,500 residents through survey responses, interviews and focus group sessions. The survey — the sequel to a similar needs assessment done in 2019 — was designed to gauge the state of health care in the community post-pandemic and identify gaps in social services.
In comments often “fraught with emotion,” residents described being fearful of public health’s role in “enforcing or implementing” provincial guidelines about COVID-19 vaccinations and gathering restrictions.
The survey found the pandemic left many residents with worse mental and physical health, financial hardship, and fractured personal relationships.
To rebuild that lost trust, residents want more health information shared with them sooner, and to see the health unit and other government agencies work more closely with community partners while advocating for residents in need of income and housing support.
Norfolk Mayor Amy Martin, who chairs the board of health, said the survey results are “not surprising.”
“We know there were several health and social services challenges faced by our community in 2019,” Martin said in a statement. “In many instances, the pandemic has worsened those challenges, especially for some of the most vulnerable individuals in our community.”
The report also put numbers to several truisms of rural life, such as the challenge of finding a family doctor. There are 63.3 family doctors per 100,000 people in Haldimand-Norfolk, compared to 115 doctors per 100,000 in Ontario.
The gap is even wider when considering medical specialists.
This when local rates of hospitalization for injuries, including self-harm, are well above — and in the case of car crashes, more than double — the provincial average.
JP Antonacci is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter based at The Hamilton Spectator. The initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
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