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Letter to Deputy Minister Menard regarding supporting vulnerable populations in Ontario

Dear Hon. Deputy Minister Menard,

It has been two weeks since Ontario announced the COVID-19 Action Plan for Vulnerable People. Community health organizations welcomed a targeted intervention to protect people living in high-risk settings. In the weeks since this announcement, we have yet to receive any further guidance or updates about what concrete steps the province will take to address outbreaks and risks to the health of people living in and working in congregate settings such as shelters, correctional facilities and other group living settings.

Community health centres provide essential health and social services to Ontario’s most marginalized populations, but the community health providers we represent are being forced to act in the dark when it comes to COVID-19. That means they’re cobbling together information about outbreaks in their communities through media reports and local relationships, rather than through guidance from official public reporting about outbreaks in congregate settings outside of Long-Term Care and retirement homes.

We are concerned about the failure of the province to report and act on outbreaks among other vulnerable populations. This includes outbreaks happening right now in correctional facilities, immigration detention centres, shelters for people experiencing homelessness, group homes, shelters for survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking, children's residential settings, migrant worker camps, and those residential settings supporting vulnerable Indigenous individuals and families both on and off reserve.

Robust data collection, transparent reporting, and accessibility of data are key components of emergency preparedness and response. To understand a pandemic’s evolution and impact we must know who it affects, how it affects them, and which factors increase vulnerability, so providers and staff can work with people to reduce them.

Two tales of COVID-19 are currently unfolding in Ontario. While some communities are reporting reductions in transmission and fatal outcomes from the virus, other vulnerable populations are experiencing increasing outbreaks. If the government continues to delay follow-up strategies and plans to protect vulnerable populations outside long term care facilities, key populations will be put at increased risk.

We write to urgently request a meeting with you, Deputy Minister, to address two key questions and to offer our most urgent support in meeting the needs of vulnerable populations:

  1. When will the Ministry release disaggregated data about outbreaks in non-LTC/RH congregate settings?
  2. When will the Ministry release further documentation and guidance about its Action Plan for Vulnerable Populations?

As front facing community-based organizations working with these marginalized populations, we have a long history of trust with the people we serve, and finding ways to meet community needs as they arise – from the opioid crises to refugee health to our COVID-19 responses. We have much to offer in terms of ideas and expertise, and we look forward to supporting you in delivering the Ontario Action Plan for Vulnerable People as soon as possible.

We look forward to meeting with you to discuss these issues.

Sincerely,

Dr. Kate Mulligan, Acting CEO, Alliance for Healthier Communities

Friday, May 15, 2020
health