KFL&A Board of Health hears of outreach successes, school hunger concerns

“We can’t continue to put demands on students to perform better if they don’t have the tools to do that,” said Councillor Conny Glenn regarding children facing hunger at area schools during a recent KFL&A Board of Health meeting. Photo by Katerina Holmes.

Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, presented a brief community health update earlier this week during the Wednesday, Apr. 26, 2023, meeting of the KFL&A Board of Health.

Oglaza began with an update on the success of the KFL&A Public Health Outreach Program. A collaborative program between Public Health and community partners, the outreach program provides low-barrier access to public health services for under-housed community members.

Especially important, it provides access to routine and high-risk vaccines and sexually transmitted blood borne infection (STBBI) testing and treatment.

“We are teaming up with trusted health care providers for that community, we’re teaming up with… partners from Addictions and Mental Health [Service of KFL&A and] Street Health to bring those services to these individuals,” explained Oglaza. “This particularly is important in the context of what’s happening in the community overall with the increased rates of sexually transmitted blood-borne infections. We provide that access to screening and testing for individuals who otherwise… may not be able to seek that care elsewhere.”

Since July of 2022, Oglaza reported, the outreach program has documented 210 encounters with more than 130 individuals, and has provided more than 50 routine and high-risk vaccinations.

“We’ve performed over 250 tests for chlamydia [and] gonorrhea, and over 270 tests for syphilis, hepatitis C, and HIV. And through that testing, we have identified 40 infections and provided over 30 treatments… That’s really important because without that outreach, those individuals might have gone undetected and untreated for longer,” he detailed 

“We will continue to offer that service to the population in the KFL&A region and look at options and opportunities for additional service and care for those in rural communities, as well, through other community partners.”

Image from presentation by KFL&A Public Health.

Oglaza also provided an update on the ongoing work by Public Health to define a process for strategic planning going forward. He and his team are working towards building a framework for agency strategic planning, which includes processes and data collection tools, by engaging with the Board of Health, staff, and community partners. “The goal is to have that process outlined and proceed through the spring and summer and have the draft ready for presentation to the board in the fall of 2023,” Oglaza stated.

Oglaza gave an update, as well, on the status of local school food program funding. He explained that, in March 2023, a memo was presented to the Board of Health addressing a National School Food Program in Canada. Then, on April 12, 2023, Board of Health Chair Wes Garrod and Dr. Oglaza met with Karina Gould, federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, and other partners to discuss school food programs. The meeting was arranged by Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, Mark Gerretsen, and a follow-up meeting for further discussion is planned.

Oglaza described the continued effort: “Our plan is to continue the discussion with our provincial partners to look at the existing funding from the province to school food programs… We have received first-hand confirmation of the pressures that the local Food Sharing Project that provides food and school nutrition programs to our local schools is facing: there is pressure from both the increased cost of food, as well as increased demand and families who are stretched financially.”

In the discussion following Oglaza’s report, Garrod stated that, during the meeting with the federal minister, he was able to express his disappointment “that nothing had come through in the budget federally for food sharing for a national school nutrition program, which is… critical. I mean, kids go to school hungry. It doesn’t matter what city you’re in; wherever you are, that’s always going to be the case — and that certainly impacts learning and the ability to concentrate. So, I think it’s critical that we do our best to support school nutrition.” 

Earlier this year, KFL&A Public Health released a report on food security in the region, which stated that roughly one in nine KFL&A households currently live with food insecurity.

“And then, if you notice… last week [provincial] Education Minister [Stephen] Lecce indicated that [academic] results from schools need to improve in terms of meeting the bar the province has set. Well, I think what we’ve found was that there are more kids hungry in school… so maybe that’s a factor [in lower achievement scores]. I think what behooves us… is to do our best to make sure we advocate for our school nutrition program… That’s something that is worthwhile to follow up on,” Garrod stated.

Other members of the Board spoke in support of Garrod’s sentiments.

“We can’t continue to put demands on students to perform better if they don’t have the tools to do that,” said Board member Councillor Conny Glenn. “If we look at a hierarchy of needs, this is a basic [one]; this is not us asking for something extraordinary. It’s asking for a basic need to be fulfilled in our community.”

Board member David Pattenden agreed, “I certainly support Conny’s comments… And unfortunately, I think the sad reality is it’s going to get worse. With the weather conditions changing, with the growth of [population] — we are already behind in the world and our ability to feed the billion people in the world.”

With that, the Board passed a motion to advocate to the province for emergency funding to all student nutrition programs to cover increased costs of food and increased demand, and that a letter seeking support be sent to the Minister of Children and Community and Social Services, Minister of Education, the Ontario Chief Medical Officer Of Health, Local MPPs, and the counties of KFL&A. That letter is also to be copied to ALPHA (Association of Local Public Health Agencies) and all other Ontario boards of health.

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