Public health’s link to the Toronto 2015 Pan Am & Parapan Am Games
In July, Ontario is hosting the largest multi-sport event ever held in Canada: the Toronto 2015 Pan Am & Parapan Am Games (TO2015). Planning has been underway for years, including preparing for public health events like food-related and infectious disease outbreaks, and extreme weather impacts. PHO will play a key role in monitoring public health activity before, during and after the Games. Under the overall leadership of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s Emergency Management Branch, which will coordinate interaction among key stakeholders, including PHO, hospitals, public health units, seven Local Health Integration Networks, allied health professionals, local paramedic services, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, PHO (with these partners) will lead enhanced surveillance and laboratory testing, and give expert technical advice in case of outbreaks or other incidents with health impacts. PHO epidemiologist, Karin Hohenadel, is playing a vital role linking TO2015 to resources and partners of the public health system.
As public health coordinator for the Games, Hohenadel has been working with the TO2015 medical team since February. She’s been involved in a broad range of activities leading up to the Games, planning and preparing for any public health event that may occur. For example, she helped map out processes and roles for the various health partners. She also connected the TO2015 medical team to PHO’s infection prevention and control team, who developed games-specific infection prevention and control guidance for use in TO2015 medical clinics, and training materials for medical volunteers. She’s also helped TO2015 establish a framework for reportable disease notifications, ensuring that Games medical practitioners know how to contact local public health when dealing with a reportable disease.
This work is quite different than her usual job, says Hohenadel. “As an epidemiologist with the Analytic Services unit, I worked on a wide range of projects, including the Ontario Health Profile (OHP) and a research project on the health impacts of the 2013 Toronto ice storm. I became interested in gaining a better understanding of public health emergencies, and preparing for them. I had never worked in the area of mass gatherings—I really wanted to see the anatomy of how a large gathering comes together. I was excited to try something different.”
"This is the biggest PanAm Games ever held, the largest multi-sport event Canada has ever hosted, and events are spread out over 10 health units. All partners will be working closely together."
While a tremendous amount of system-wide preparation has gone into this event, including risk assessments and work-throughs of potential public health event scenarios, “this is all part of what public health does to protect the public every day,” says Dr. Brian Schwartz, PHO’s chief of Communicable Disease, Emergency Preparedness and Response. “You can’t have an event like this without years of preparation. The public health system has been preparing for this for some time, managing potential risks for the general public, while identifying particular risks to athletes and participants.”
During the Games, Hohenadel will focus on implementation. She will be on-site in the athlete’s village every day, ensuring that the TO2015 medical team and public health partners have the information they need: scientific and technical advice, support for communicable disease and food outbreak investigations, and support for notifications of reportable diseases as required. If there was an outbreak, for example, as part of the TO2015 functional command centre she would help to support the investigation led by local public health, such as helping to gain access to athletes, arranging for case follow up interviews, providing information from medical records, and other work to implement recommendations from local public health officials.
“If you think about Vancouver Olympics, only one health region was affected. This is the biggest PanAm Games ever held, the largest multi-sport event Canada has ever hosted, and events are spread out over 10 health units. All partners will be working closely together.” She says it’s been fascinating being a part of the Games’ preparation and “seeing how they build a mini health system up from the ground and then figuring out how to connect to existing public health and health care systems.”