By replacing Ontario’s 36 existing health units with 14 new regional boards of health, the provincial government may end up “throwing the baby out with the bath water,” said Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow.
The mayor agreed that the town should endorse the position of the Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit which opposes the proposed change, following a Nov. 13 presentation to council by Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paula Stewart.
Stewart was asked to speak to council in person after the town received an Oct. 3 letter from the health unit objecting to recommendations in the report of the Expert Panel on Public Health. That report, released in June, recommended a completely new organizational structure for public health in Ontario. The panel was established at the direction of Minister of Health Eric Hoskins, and began its work in January.
According to the panel’s report, a new bureaucratic organization is needed because “a lack of mechanisms to coordinate across health units and lack of alignment with LHINs (Local Health Integration Networks) also make it challenging to collaborate, share resources and maximize effectiveness both within the public health sector and with the broader health system.” The 14 new boards of health would correspond to the 14 LHINs currently in place in Ontario.
However, when asked by Pankow what would have motivated the panel to recommend a new organization, Stewart replied, “I honestly don’t know.”
According to Stewart, the local health unit has a number of specific objections to the proposed changes. One concern is the diminished role of municipalities in the organization. The report recommends recruiting ordinary citizens to the boards of health rather than municipal representatives. The health unit is in favour of municipal representation, said Stewart, because “the work we do is very close to you.”
The health unit is also concerned about the cost of the new bureaucracy, because no new funding is available to pay for it. Remaining concerns include the potential loss of local jobs through the reduction in the number of health units, the fact that the local health unit would split between the boundaries of two existing LHINs (Champlain and Southwest), and the fact that the proposal “ignores current effective collaboration with LHINs and Eastern Ontario health units.”
Stewart also noted that “AMO (the Association of Municipalities of Ontario) has come out strongly against this. They say this won’t work, it’s going to be expensive, and it shouldn’t be done.”
Councillors agreed to send a letter to the minister of health endorsing the Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit’s objections.