Local flu death numbers partially released after complaint to Privacy Commissioner


KAWARTHA LAKES-Two local Health Units refused to release statistics surrounding local flu deaths until Kawartha 411 contacted the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. Then, only releasing partial numbers.

The Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge Distric Health Unit and Peterborough Public Health would not release the information citing privacy concerns even though we did not request any personal information. “For patient confidentiality reasons, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit does not report on the local number of deaths or hospitalizations due to flu.” Marianne Rock, the Health Unit’s Manager of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control, told Kawartha 411 on February 16th.

Peterborough Public Health said they are no longer required to monitor deaths from the flu. “Regarding deaths, public health units are not required to monitor flu-related deaths in the community anymore as of new changes to the provincial standards that took effect Jan. 1/18.” Brittany Cadence told Kawartha 411.  “We are still required to monitor deaths from influenza connected to outbreaks in long-term care facilities, however, that information could identify the individual so cannot be shared to protect their confidentiality.” Cadence told Kawartha 411 on January 19th.

But the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario says there’s no reason to keep the numbers from the public. “Our office encourages public institutions to be as transparent as possible and release information of interest to the public. It is in the public’s interest to know how many flu-related deaths have occurred in a specific community. Privacy laws do not prohibit the release of non-identifying statistical information. If health authorities have such information, they should release it.” says the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

On February 16th we requested the numbers on local deaths from the flu once again from both public health agencies. After waiting for six days for a response we contacted the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.

Within about 45 minutes of contacting the Privacy Commissioner we recieved a repsonse from Peterborough Public Health. “I’m still waiting for the figures from our epidemiologist, and have been nudging. As soon as I receive them, I’ll send them along.” Cadence said.

This morning the health unit sent us this information. “There has been one death from influenza in the Peterborough Public Health area related to outbreaks in facilities (e.g. long-term care, retirement homes, etc.) that our health unit has been involved with. As of January 1, 2018, provincial reporting requirements changed whereby Ontario public health agencies are no longer required to track every lab confirmed case in the community we’re made aware of. We only follow up with cases in facilities that are reported to us, and so would only be aware of influenza-related deaths in these specific instances.  This number does not represent the total number of flu deaths in the community.”

Kawartha 411 knows of at least one death in the general population in Peterborough as well.

The HKPR Health Unit responed this morning. “Sorry for the delay in getting back to you with the information you requested from Bill last week.” said Chandra Tremblay Manager, Corporate Services;Communications and IT Services, HKPR District Health Unit. “As of December 31, 2017, there have been no flu-related deaths or hospitalizations in the HKPR area (City of Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton County, Northumberland County). This is based on the information the Health Unit has received from the province regarding Long Term Care facilities.

This has been a deadly year for the flu. A 10-year-old Waterdown boy died Feb. 4 after getting the flu. Two children in Guelph died from flu. Both students at the same south-end elementary school. 12 year old Layna Vu Pollard died at Guelph General Hospital on Jan. 31. Hers was the first death confirmed to be flu-related by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health. A seven-year-old boy, had also attended Westminster Woods Public School aslo died.

When asked to explain why public health is no longer required to track how many people have died from the flu the Ministry of health says they have streamlined the process. “The ministry implemented a new process for monitoring hospitalizations and deaths for the 2017-2018 influenza season using information from existing data sources. Public health units are no longer required to keep track of flu hospitalizations and deaths.” David Jensen, MOH told Kawartha 411. “All health units have access to these new information sources to monitor influenza related hospitalizations and deaths within their jurisdiction. This information provides a clearer understanding of the burden of influenza on the health care system across Ontario.”

However,  if Health Units have access to this information they still refuse to provide all of it to the public, telling us they only monitor the deaths in Long Term Care facilities.

There have been 38,014 lab-confirmed cases of influenza this season as of Feb. 10, accounting for 142 deaths and 3,252 hospital admissions. Those deaths included five children under 16. The flu has resulted in 594 pediatric hospital admissions.

Lab-confirmed outbreaks of influenza outbreaks in long-term care facilities, hospitals, schools and other settings increased recently as well.

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