SHERBROOKE -- It's not just surgeries and medical follow-ups that are getting delayed in the health care system. Prevention programs against major public health issues have also been on hiatus for nearly a year as health resources are redirected to fight the pandemic.

The health director of the Eastern Townships says that could have major effects on the region's ability to deal with those issues in the future.

“Our public health [issues] haven’t stopped during COVID-19, what has stopped is our ability to work on them,” said Dr. Alain Poirier during a press conference last week.

Chronic diseases, mental health problems, eating disorders, and smoking continue to affect Quebecers while prevention programs are being delayed, he said.

Public health teams in Quebec, as elsewhere in the world, have mobilized to fight COVID-19.

In Quebec, staff members have been temporarily relocated from other areas of healthcare. Thanks to those additions, the public health workforce in the Eastern Townships has grown from eight to over 200 people.

But, as the pandemic continues to grip the province, Poirer says it won’t be easy to determine when exactly those workers will be able to return to their regular tasks.

If and when they are relocated, a shortage of staff could limit the province’s ability to detect future outbreaks. “By losing them, will we still be able to conduct our COVID investigations?” asked Poirer, who took over the public health department in 2019.

Reporters asked the director to identify which areas of prevention should resume first. He said it’s “difficult to establish a hierarchy,” but that “it must be done.”


Another major problem for Poirier childhood development, as kids across the province are deprived of regular schooling and socialization.

The Eastern Townships announced a new action plan focused on children, in order to “weave a social safety net” for kids in the area.

Through the program, the region also hopes to address increases in cases of child abuse in recent years, specifically in Granby.

The new plan provides for 44 actions spread out into the next four years. The province says the plan will facilitate access to services, and improve communication between schools and community resources.

-- This report from the Canadian Press was first published on Feb. 9, 2021.