Support across the lifespan

20 Jun, 2022 | Return|

Support across the lifespan


From prenatal services to dental care for seniors, public health offers programs for all ages


By Denis Langlois


With lights flashing and sirens wailing, an ambulance winds through congested traffic and creeps through busy intersections while rushing to a nearby hospital.

A young girl and her mother watch the ambulance drive by as they sit in a waiting room for an appointment with a family physician.

When the ambulance arrives at the hospital, an injured patient is whisked to awaiting nurses and doctors and into a large, brightly lit trauma room.

For many people, these are the kinds of images that come to mind when thinking of Canada’s health care system – paramedics, MRI scans, emergency dispatch, family doctors, checkups, patients, hospitals, emergency departments and trauma rooms.

But there’s another vital component of our health system that some people may not know as much about: Public Health.

Public Health has become a very popular household term during the past two years of COVID-19, but we’re finding some people don’t know a lot about what it really does outside of a global pandemic.

To understand the vital role that Public Health plays in the community every day, let’s zoom out and look upstream from the health care images described above.

In a nutshell, Public Health oversees programs and services aimed at improving the health and quality of life of the “whole population” and addressing health disparities through prevention of disease and illness, protection from potential environmental threats and promotion of healthier lifestyles, supportive policies and environments.

Let’s call them the 3 Ps.

In other words, Public Health is all about preventing the need for that ambulance trip in the first place and reduce health-related costs.



Public Health is home to a number of programs and services – all falling under one or more of the 3 Ps – that are geared to people of all ages, from birth to end of life.

We call it support across the lifespan.

Even before a child is born, Public Health can offer assistance.

Nurses and parent support workers conduct prenatal home visits, as part of a Healthy Babies, Healthy Children program, to offer encouragement, support and resources to expectant parents.

There’s also a free, voluntary home-visiting program for families with infants or preschool-aged children who are in need of additional support. Public Health nurses and parent support workers can help parents learn about connecting with their baby, child growth and development and taking care of themselves and their baby.

For young children, Public Health dental hygienists and dental health educators regularly visit schools to offer free dental screenings. While the visual assessments do not replace regular dental examinations, they can alert parents to potential problems or urgent issues with their child’s teeth.

The health unit also oversees a Healthy Smiles Ontario Program, which provides free, in-clinic preventative, routine and emergency dental services for children and youth 17 years of age and under from low-income households. Services are provided at four locations around Grey-Bruce.

School-aged children also benefit from Public Health services, as Public Health nurses work with schools and boards to provide curriculum support, resources and other information.

Public Health nurses visit schools to provide routine vaccinations, such as to protect against Hepatitis and HPV, to Grade 7 students as well as recommended vaccines to high school students.

For youths and adults, Public Health runs a sexual health clinic – temporarily closed due to the pandemic – that provides free, confidential services related to sexual health, such as sexually transmitted infection tests and treatment, pregnancy tests and access to low-cost or emergency contraceptives.

The health unit can also help people to quit smoking and provides educational resources and training related to food literacy, staying active, preventing injuries and breastfeeding.

Seniors aged 65 and older with a low income can also receive free dental care at Public Health clinics through the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program.



There are many other Public Health programs and services that fall under one or more of the 3 Ps – promotion, prevention or protection.

The health unit team includes talented and qualified Public Health Dietitians and Health Promoters who work to reduce health disparities, promote healthy public policy and healthy environments and to enable everyone, including the most vulnerable, to increase control over their health – where they live, work and play. Topics range from healthy environments to safe and supportive housing. There are also team members who specialize in the prevention of falls across the lifespan.

Many people got a first-hand look at Public Health’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic when the organization rolled out the largest mass immunization program in modern history.

But Public Health provided immunizations long before the pandemic in an effort to prevent people from contracting vaccine-preventable diseases.

Public Health assists in managing outbreaks in health care facilities and other high-risk settings and identifies and analyzes trends to assist in the prevention and management of infectious diseases.

On the protection front, Public Health inspects food premises, child care centres, personal services settings, recreational camps, small drinking water systems, recreational water facilities and stores or shops that sell tobacco and e-cigarette products. Routine inspections, consultations and complaint responses are designed to ensure that standards are met; standards designed to protect the public’s health.

The health unit can help communities prepare for and respond to emergencies and has programs to protect people from rabies exposure and vector-borne diseases that can come from mosquitoes and ticks.

Public Health also uses the latest research and knowledge of their community to support local responses to global threats to our health, like climate change.

The health unit’s harm reduction program is aimed at reducing the social and health harms associated with addiction and substance use in a non-judgemental way.

Initiatives include a needle syringe program, intended to reduce the transmission of infections amongst people who use drugs, encourage the safe disposal of sharps and other supplies and reduce harms associated with drug use, including overdose. Public Health promotes the use of naloxone, a medication that temporarily reverses the signs of an opioid overdose.

Awareness campaigns are also created to educate the public about lowering the risk of substance use, while efforts take place to promote access to helpful resources and challenge the stigma associated with substance use.



Much of Public Health’s work happens behind the scenes where the general public is unaware of ongoing efforts, such as advocacy work to reduce health disparities and introduce healthy public policies and other efforts to boost population health.

Public Health focuses on societal and economic factors that influence health and designs its programs, services and interventions using an equity lens to support all members of the community to have opportunities to be healthy.

Upstream work also includes addressing the social, economic and generational factors that can affect groups of people.

These so-called social determinants of health include things like income and income distribution, social safety networks, education, employment conditions, housing, food insecurity, early child development, gender and racism.

The Grey Bruce Health Unit team is made up of a diverse group of Public Health professionals who are determined to address upstream factors that influence population health and work to protect the public.

Much of Public Health’s work is accomplished through collaborative partnerships – perhaps the fourth P – with community organizations and groups, municipalities and others.

Some of this collaborative work enables Public Health to tackle some of the most-pressing issues facing the community. These include: a co-ordinated Grey Bruce Opioid Response Plan; a Supportive Outreach Service (S.O.S.), which provides a person-centered mobile response for individuals experiencing barriers to accessing health and social services; and a Infection Prevention And Control (IPAC) Hub and the Healthy Communities Partnership.




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