Via Global News: Health officials starved of census data pay for local info of their own. This result from our Conservative government's decision to end the long-form census and replace it with a voluntary "National Household Survey." Excerpt:
Public health bodies across Canada, starved of census data, are paying for pricey surveys to collect their own local info but say they’re still flying blind on decisions that affect public health and taxpayer dollars.
As predicted, the national household survey that replaced Statistics Canada’s long-form census had flawed data that becomes more flawed the more granular you get.
“As you start looking at some of these results for smaller populations, the smaller areas, you might see a little bit more volatility in the information. So we are cautioning users,” Marc Hamel, Director General of Statistics Canada’s Census Management Office, told Global News in an interview last year.
“We don’t have [comparative] sources at the small level, very small towns. So we can’t say if the information is in line with reality in these locations.”
That leaves local governments and health officials in the lurch. In many cases they’re still relying on eight-year-old data from the 2006 census, because that’s the most recent, reliable data they have.
They need these numbers to evaluate existing programs and plan new ones; to determine how to reach marginalized populations and decide who needs targeting for which services. Where are immigrants settling? How about young people? Who’s getting their shots, and did an experimental neonatal health program pay off as affected babies grew up? What’s the best way to roll out vaccinations when the next epidemic hits?
Without population data, they say, they don’t know.
Some public health bodies are collecting their own info in an attempt to fill that gap – even though they know it’s still not as good and the costs are so prohibitive they can’t keep it up indefinitely.
British Columbia’s Fraser Health Authority is in the midst of analyzing data it collected from 15,000 people within the Lower Mainland health region (its partner, Vancouver Coastal Health, collected data on a similar sample size in its own area). The health bodies hope to use the information to create an interactive “health atlas” with everything from diabetes to immunization information.
“Obviously, the more of this we do, the better information we have, the better,” said Chief Medical Health Officer Paul Van Buynder. But this is no minor undertaking: You need to find the staff and the cash to make it happen.
“We will do what’s possible, given the financial burden,” Van Buynder said. “Do we have the money? What’s the most efficient way of getting the information we need?”
It’s ironic, he notes, that an ostensibly fiscally conservative government has made it tough to spend public funds in a fiscally responsible way.
“To a certain extent, we are working around the absence of what used to be available to use from the census,” he said.
But “at the end of the day, we still need that info. … There will always be a need of not just looking at the changing demographics but the impacts of what we do. We need to know whether that’s making a difference.”