Ox­ford, El­gin-St. Thomas mull health merger

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - lpin@post­media.com hrivers@post­media.com LOUIS PIN TIMES-JOUR­NAL AND HEATHER RIVERS POST­MEDIA NEWS

Fear­ing the prospect of a sweep­ing con­sol­i­da­tion of On­tario’s pub­lic health sys­tem, El­gin-St. Thomas and Ox­ford County health boards are propos­ing a pre-emp­tive merger.

A let­ter of in­tent was drafted, signed by both boards, and made pub­lic Fri­day. If ap­proved, the joint health board would serve roughly 200,000 peo­ple in El­gin, Ox­ford and St. Thomas start­ing next spring.

West El­gin Mayor Bernie Wiehle, who chairs the El­gin-St. Thomas Board of Health, said a de­ci­sion could be made by year’s end.

“We have to have it done,” Wiehle said. “We have to go to the province and make our case . . . there’s a very nar­row win­dow of time for us to do this.”

Both boards would ben­e­fit, said Wiehle, whose com­ments were echoed by Ox­ford County War­den David May­berry.

“We both think the same way,” May­berry said. “What we re­ally care about is pub­lic health in our com­mu­nity.”

El­gin-St. Thomas board mem­bers were frus­trated by a provin­cially ap­pointed panel’s June re­port rec­om­mend­ing, among other things, that On­tario’s 36 cur­rent pub­lic health units be stream­lined into 14 larger oper­a­tions. Un­der that plan, El­ginSt. Thomas and Ox­ford would be part of a new health unit also cov­er­ing Mid­dle­sex-Lon­don, Perth, Huron, Grey and Bruce coun­ties.

The province has not made a de­ci­sion on those rec­om­men­da­tions, but MPP Jeff Yurek (PC – El­gin-Mid­dle­sex-Lon­don), his party’s health critic at Queen’s Park, said re­sponse from pub­lic health boards has not been pos­i­tive.

“There’s not a lot of sup­port to cre­ate these ‘mega health boards,’ ” Yurek said. “It’s hard to de­liver pub­lic health to a spe­cific re­gion within those large re­gions . . . it’s bet­ter to uti­lize what we have now and maybe part­ner some of the small units.

“Merg­ing El­gin and Ox­ford looks like it’s the right di­rec­tion,” he added.

El­gin County coun­cil mem­bers have said they feared a larger health board would strip de­ci­sion-mak­ing from smaller mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties like West El­gin and its roughly 5,000 res­i­dents.

“The ru­ral ar­eas just get left be­hind,” Cen­tral El­gin Mayor David Marr told a board meet­ing in Septem­ber. “The cities, the large cities, will say, ‘This is what we’re do­ing’ and the rest of us will fol­low suit. That’s not right.”

The let­ter of in­tent is­sued Fri­day said the El­gin-St. Thomas-Ox­ford merger is “con­sis­tent with nu­mer­ous pro­vin­cial re­ports sug­gest­ing the need to re­duce the num­ber of health units.” The let­ter specif­i­cally men­tioned the pro­vin­cial panel’s June rec­om­men­da­tions.

Ox­ford’s May­berry said he sug­gested a health board merger with El­gin-St. Thomas due to a sim­i­lar con­stituency.

“We had a num­ber of is­sues and looked at our his­tory with El­gin and how sim­i­lar

Merger play­ers by the num­bers

Fig­ures are from 2016

EL­GIN-ST. THOMAS 88,978: to­tal pop­u­la­tion 80+: staff at El­gin-St. Thomas Pub­lic Health $8.97M: to­tal ESTPH ex­pen­di­tures

OX­FORD COUNTY 110,862: to­tal pop­u­la­tion 70+: staff at Ox­ford County Pub­lic Health $9.65M: to­tal OCPH ex­pen­di­tures we are in both geog­ra­phy and ru­ral ur­ban mix,” May­berry said. “Also, we both rep­re­sent small eth­nic groups that re­quire some con­sid­er­a­tion or at­ten­tion.”

“The province waves a big stick and we do what we need to do,” Wiehle added.

The med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health in El­gin County, and some se­nior pub­lic health staff in Ox­ford County, are ex­pected to re­tire within the next few years. If the merger goes ahead, they would not be re­placed.

We have to go to the province and make our case . . . there’s a very nar­row win­dow of time for us to do this.” Bernie Wiehle, West El­gin Mayor The ru­ral ar­eas just get left be­hind.” David Marr, Cen­tral El­gin Mayor

LOUIS PIN/TIMES-JOUR­NAL

Mem­bers of the El­gin-St. Thomas Board of Health met in early Septem­ber to dis­cuss a re­port re­leased ear­lier this year, sug­gest­ing the 36 boards of health be amal­ga­mated into 14 larger boards among other things.

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