Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton has announced the formation of a high-powered task force, the first of its kind in the province, to coordinate a response to the COVID-19 pandemic in southeastern New Brunswick.
Mitton says the Tantramar COVID-19 Task Force will include the mayors of Sackville, Dorchester and Port Elgin as well as the Chief of the Fort Folly First Nation.
The task force will focus on ensuring that people’s needs continue to be met during the COVID-19 crisis including access to an adequate supply of food as well as to mental and physical health services.
“We’re just trying to make sure we have a coordinated community response and that we’re working together to maximize our resources,” Mitton said during a telephone interview.
She added that the task force will focus on coordinating the work of volunteers.
“One of the challenges that food banks are facing is that many of the volunteers that they have are seniors,” she said. “There is a higher risk to their health if they continue in their volunteer duties and so, how do we mobilize volunteers to respond to the increased demand on the food banks?”
Mitton says the task force will also identify gaps in services.
“One of the roles that I can play is taking those issues to the leader of the Green Party who sits on the COVID-19 cabinet committee, so that the issues that are arising here that can’t be dealt with at the local level, those gaps can be identified and I can take them to the provincial level,” she adds.
The task force will be co-chaired by Carolle de Ste-Croix, director of alumni engagement at Mount Allison University and David McKellar, president of the Sackville Rotary Club.
A news release issued on Sunday says the task force will establish action groups to focus on such areas as communications and technology, food security, donations, volunteers and financial and legal matters.
“The task force is not meant to replace the valuable work of our community groups and volunteers, but rather to offer support and ensure the maximization of available resources,” the release adds.
Mitton says she got the idea for the new Tantramar COVID-19 Task Force from an earlier committee she helped establish to fight against provincial cuts to the Sackville Memorial Hospital.
“This type of group worked well together to have different stakeholders from different parts of the riding come together with a common goal of taking care of the community and responding to needs, so that’s what sparked the idea,” she says.
Mitton adds that while the fight to preserve the hospital’s overnight emergency services and acute care beds has been temporarily overshadowed, the COVID crisis itself vividly illustrates the need for smaller, local hospitals.
“One of the interesting things that I saw in an article about Italy was the importance of the rural hospitals and how the regional hospitals ended up being places where the disease spread more,” she says.
“I think this will be something that will be fresh in our minds when we get back into making decisions around health care.”
For more information about the task force, visit the TantramarCovid19 Facebook page. The co-chairs can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bruce Wark worked in broadcasting and journalism education for more than 35 years. He was at CBC Radio for nearly 20 years as senior editor of network programs such as The World at Six and World Report. He currently writes for The New Wark Times where this story first appeared.