Health units on the block
Proposal to consolidate health units has rural municipalities fuming
ST. THOMAS — A provincial proposal to chop by more than half Ontario’s network of public health offices, consolidating them to serve larger areas, would strip rural communities of their voice in public health, area critics say.
Members of the Elgin-St. Thomas board of health, among others, say they’re skeptical the provincial proposal would save money or increase efficiency.
“The rural areas just get left behind,” said David Marr, a Central Elgin councillor representing Elgin County on the board.
“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.”
“This is the worst thing they could ever do to public health,” said St. Thomas Mayor Heather Jackson. “This (Ontario Liberal) government is going to ruin the way that we deliver public health.”
If the proposal sticks, Elgin- St. Thomas would be grouped for public health into a new health unit also covering MiddlesexLondon, Oxford County, Perth District, Huron County and Grey and Bruce counties.
An expert panel convened by the government quietly published a report in June proposing that Ontario’s 36 public health units be streamlined into 14 larger operations, a move it said would be more efficient and help smaller public health operations that lack adequate resources. The provincially appointed panel behind the report included four people from Toronto, medical officers of health from the Guelph and Niagara regions and the chair of the Windsor-Essex health unit, but critics say rural Ontario was conspicuously underrepresented.
“People in Owen Sound are not going to have the same issues that we have,” Jackson said. “We’re not going to have the oversight . . . (or) control of our programs” if the proposed overhaul goes through.
“This, to me, reeks of the same system that they use for (accommodation review committees), when they’re looking at closing schools,” she said.
Other board members echoed her concerns.
“You’re going to be sitting there by yourself,” Marr said. “One person from this (health) unit . . . going up against the needs of everybody else.”
Amalgamation is a sore topic for many Southwestern Ontario municipalities, especially in Chatham-Kent, where the city and former Kent County were merged a generation ago.
The proposed new public health system would group ChathamKent with Windsor-Essex and Sarnia-Lambton.
Six of 14 proposed boards would be in the Greater Toronto Area.
Medical officers of health from across Ontario, including David Colby of the Chatham-Kent health unit, met this week in Toronto to discuss the report. Colby cited several concerns, including that broader service areas will nullify the relationships between municipalities and boards of health.
“This is basically an opinion piece,” Colby said.
The deadline for responses to the report is Oct. 31.