Health units on the block

Pro­posal to con­sol­i­date health units has ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties fuming

The London Free Press - - REGION - LOUIS PIN POST­MEDIA NEWS Jack­son

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.

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