Opinion: COVID recovery will take years — and needs to be funded appropriately

Calgary Herald 3 minute read January 25, 2022

Carlene Donnelly of CUPS writes that it will take up to five years for some vulnerable community members to recover from the pandemic. Azin Ghaffari / Postmedia file

We are at an interesting transition point in the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Omicron variant is having a profound impact on our community, there is a shift in headspace and talk of recovery as our community — and others around the country — look to rebound from the last almost two years and find a solid footing.

But there’s a difference between stable and recovered.

For many of our vulnerable community members, we are looking at anywhere from one to five years to get people out of the pandemic crisis and into a state of health and well-being. The work is far from over and we need to ensure there are appropriate resources to fund the work being done to provide mental-health stability for residents of Calgary.

The CUPS Health Clinic has been actively supporting the front lines of COVID-19 since Day 1. We’ve been in the shelters and worked closely with The Alex Community Health Centre for the Assisted Self-Isolation Site. The work we’ve done collectively as a sector has allowed us to reduce outbreaks at shelters and protect vulnerable community members.

In the last year, we served more than 29,000 patients at CUPS health clinics. Some patients have been actively engaged with our health team consistently for months and will be for the next several years to ensure they stabilize and are on the right path forward.

This sheer volume of patients requiring long-term assistance has pushed the limits both at CUPS and across the sector. With combined stagnant growth in front-line staffing numbers and provincial resource funding, CUPS and many other agencies are working tirelessly to uphold a commitment to providing equitable access to high-quality, patient-centred care in Calgary.

As a sector, we are at risk of potentially crumbling under the growing need and lack of equal resources to add positions to meet this demand.

In this new health climate, there are three main issues we’re dealing with at CUPS and across the sector:

  • A need for additional primary care funding to support clinics with increased volume and complex care;
  • No additional front-line staffing capacity to support the complexity of our clients;
  • Inability to backfill for the loss of symptomatic staff.

To get complex clients/patients to a state of health and wellness, our health team is actively involved in providing consistent support and guidance, helping these individuals stabilize and shift into recovery mode. We are lifting up the most fragile patients in our community. Staff are exhausted and it’s taking its toll on their physical and mental health.

As a community, we have a responsibility to support the mental health of everyone. Whether they are a front-line health worker or an individual in a complex, mental-health situation in subsidized housing — everyone’s mental health matters. It’s one of the reasons we need to continue to elevate the City of Calgary’s Mental Health and Addiction Strategy. Prevention is a core pillar in mental health and that is led from the community. With a renewed focus on improving support and accessibility to treatment in the community, we can have a more compassionate, healthy city for all.

But a community-led prevention approach to mental health needs support. It’s going to take an increase of staffing, resources and general support from around the province to collectively recover from this crisis and ensure our mental health is protected. Community collaborations between funders and social organizations have demonstrated great success over COVID and those need to continue as we move forward.

There is still much more to do to keep our community and province strong and mentally well through the COVID-19 recovery. We all need to be at the table together, to collectively advocate for health and wellness in our community — both for right now and in the years to come.

Carlene Donnelly is the executive director of CUPS, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people overcome poverty.



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