Kingston and Area Real Estate Association stresses need for Public Health Ontario lab

Kingston and Area Real Estate Association President Erin Finn speaks in a video about the importance of keeping the Kingston Public Health Ontario Laboratory open and operational. Screen captured image.

The local health unit and Kingston City Council have publicly called for the Public Health Ontario Laboratory to remain here in Kingston; now another local organization is joining that fight.

On Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2024, the Kingston and Area Real Estate Association (KAREA) announced its support of Public Health and City Council in their efforts to have the Kingston Public Health Ontario Laboratory remain open and operational. Specifically, KAREA focused on the need for local water testing, which is one service that would be lost if the Public Health Ontario lab were to close.

The potential closure of the Public Health lab first came to light during the February 2024 meeting of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health’s Board of Health. At that meeting, the board passed a motion to “strongly oppose” the closure of the Kingston Public Health Ontario Laboratory. At the time, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for KFL&A Public Health, explained that the auditor general’s audit on Public Health Ontario, released in December 2023, included a discussion on recommendations by Public Health Ontario to “streamline” regional laboratory sites, including the local Public Health Ontario Laboratory site in Kingston, and discontinue private well water testing across the province.

“To ‘streamline’ in this case means effectively to close,” Oglaza stated at the Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, meeting.

Oglaza told the Board of Health that the laboratory is “a critical component of our health infrastructure in general,” outlining that the facility carries out testing and provides “timely diagnostic and surveillance services necessary for safeguarding public health.” This includes the testing of well water, as well as local access to timely diagnostic services — meaning a quick turnaround time for test results here in Kingston. Further, Oglaza pointed to the invaluable impact those timely diagnostic services have had in the recent past: for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic and any outbreaks associated with it, as well as during a recent influenza outbreak, the laboratory was critical in ensuring that viral activity was detected and addressed quickly, thus curtailing the outbreaks.

The MOH detailed all of this at the Tuesday, Apr. 2, 2024, meeting of Kingston City Council when he presented a delegation with regard to a new motion being tabled that evening. The new motion, moved by Kingscourt-Rideau Councillor Brandon Tozzo and seconded by Williamsville Councillor Vincent Cinanni, sought to have Council support the KFL&A Public Health Board of Health’s opposition to the closure of the lab (the full meeting can be viewed on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel).

The reasons for the motion, presented as “whereas clauses” within the motion, cited that “the laboratory plays a vital role in detecting and responding to infectious diseases, monitoring health trends, and informing public health actions, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic,” and that “the closure of the laboratory would impact local access to timely diagnostic services and the timing and timeliness of decisions in both health care and in public health.” The motion also noted that the closure of the Kingston Public Health Ontario Laboratory would “result in loss of critical expertise and jobs in the area.”

Council also heard from Ross Sutherland — who presented a delegation supporting the new motion on behalf of the Kingston Health Coalition — before unanimously passing the motion “to support the KFL&A Public Health Board of Health’s opposition to the closure of the local Public Health Ontario Laboratory in Kingston.” Council also voted that a copy of the motion be sent to a number of officials in Public Health, as well as within the federal and provincial governments.

Apart from the timely diagnostics the laboratory can provide, a handful of councillors commented on the lack of access to well water testing that the closure of the lab would create. In particular, Councillor Gary Oosterhof noted how impactful that would be for his constituents in the Countryside District, many of whom depend on well water and therefore require access to testing of that water.

It is the latter issue that KAREA underscored in the announcement of its support for the Board of Health and City Council decisions. In a press release noting that the organization “stands with the local community” in keeping the laboratory “open and fully funded,” KAREA announced it is “launching a petition and engaging in community advocacy to highlight the importance of accessible, reliable, and no-cost water testing for rural residents.”

“The safety and well-being of our community are at stake,” said KAREA President Erin Finn.

“We cannot overlook the vital role of the local water testing lab in preventing public health risks.”

Urging local and provincial officials to reconsider the proposed closure and to “ensure the continuation of crucial water testing services in Kingston,” KAREA is aiming to “protect the health of rural residents and prevent the recurrence of tragedies linked to inadequate water safety measures” through collective action, the organization said.

KAREA has created a YouTube video about the matter (see below), as well as an online petition which residents can sign, available at www.watersafetyfirst.org.

The Kingston and Area Real Estate Association (KAREA) has created a video informing the public of the importance of retaining the Public Health laboratory, particularly for water testing purposes. Video via YouTube.

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