EOHU now says restaurant reports database will be online this fall
The deadline for the launch of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit's (EOHU) online disclosure system to make restaurant reports available to the public has been pushed back once again.
Although chief medical officer of health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis is currently on holidays, he did send The Review a short e-mail about the database on Monday, August 13.
"Our fully bilingual system is ready, we are testing its operation internally and will be making it public in early fall," Roumeliotis wrote in response to The Review's question as to when the system, which has been promised for more than three years now, would be made available to the public.
"It's taken us a while to get to this point and people have been critical of that," he stated. "We are certain we will be able to launch this new system within the next few weeks. That's the goal."
Representatives of the Cornwall-based health unit told The Review in February 2008 the system was on that year's operations budget and, in June 2009, Roumeliotis told a reporter he expected to have it operational by the end of 2009.
When asked why the system has taken so long to implement, Roumeliotis said the health unit had to translate all of the inspection reports, which are predominantly written and filed in English, into French to serve the region's bilingual population adequately.
The EOHU's territory includes all municipalities within the five counties - Prescott, Russell, Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry - as well as the City of Cornwall.
"Sure we can post the English reports and most people will be able to read and understand them," he commented. "But 80 per cent of the health unit's catchment area is French so it's very important to make sure all of the reports are available in French as well as English."
He said the software provided by the ministry of health and long-term care is English, which means every single report had to be translated into French.
"It's a painstaking process and it's taken a really long time," Roumeliotis said. "We would have been ready to go with this a year ago had we not had to translate every single report."
Roumeliotis said the health unit wanted to ensure all of the information in both the French and English reports was accurate before making the system available to the public.
"We are providing information to members of the public, information they have a right to access," he explained. "However, our duty is to make sure that information is fair and accurate as well. I was very concerned about making sure all of the information was accurate, more so than I was about rushing to make the system available online. Yes, we could have put the system online before making sure everything was accurate, but that would not have been fair to anyone."
Roumeliotis said the health unit has a "responsibility" to ensure French-speaking residents are able to access all the information it provides."We've been criticized for taking too long to get the system online," he admitted. "But we would have received even more criticism had we not provided the reports in both languages. We have to make sure the information is available in both languages."
He confirmed the health unit is currently operating the system internally and is able to search and find reports. He said once all of the "glitches" are worked out, the system will be made available to the public.
"There are a few more things we have to check and work out, but other than that, the system is basically ready to go," Roumeliotis commented.
For now, residents served by the EOHU can manually request a food safety inspection report - for one establishment at a time - by filling out a printable form available on its website or at local health unit offices. The form can then be delivered in person, mailed by post, or faxed, but cannot be submitted online.
According to the EOHU website, the service takes about two weeks to complete and is free of charge.
The Review began making requests using the current system last summer and did receive three restaurant reports within only a few days. The Review is still waiting on requests for reports made at the beginning of fall.
Eleven of the province's 36 health units currently have comprehensive food safety disclosure systems accessible through their websites.