Proposed reorganization would have significant impact on health units

SUDBURY—The provincial proposal to reorganize Ontario’s 36 health units and replace them with 14 much larger health units would have huge impacts on the Sudbury and District Health Unit (SDHU) and other health units in the province affected by this change, says the SDHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Penny Sutcliffe.

“There would be a huge impact if these changes are put in place,” said Dr. Sutcliffe, last Friday afternoon. “It would have a huge impact on public health regional and local service delivery and there would no longer be the smaller area boards of health in place as there is now.”

The decrease in the number of health units under the proposal, which would replicate the geographic boundaries local health integration networks have in place, would see Northeastern Ontario replacing the North Bay Parry Sound District, Timiskaming, Sudbury and District and Porcupine Health Units with a single entity.

Dr. Sutcliffe explained while there may be some good things that would come out of this proposal, “people in the Northeast have five health units currently and so, for instance, the 13-14 people that represent the individual boards and the geographic area and their community would be replaced by about 14 board representatives for the entire Northeast area; that would be a concern, as is the loss of any community voice.”

“As you know as well, so much of the work our health unit does takes in other areas other than health like schools, environment, transportation, physicians-doctors and much more. This need to be maintained,” said Dr. Sutcliffe.

An expert panel convened by Ontario’s Liberal government has recommended scrapping the province’s 36 health units and replacing them with 14 much larger units.

Joseph Lyons, director of the government program at Western University, told the London Free Press in its September 13 edition that the proposals are a leap of faith and that the panel didn’t provide any evidence. He said that it is true that there could be better integration between public health and health services generally, and that some of Ontario’s smallest health units have struggled because of a lack of resources, but he said that is not a good reason to scrap the entire system.

Smaller health units can be fixed without turning whole systems on their heads, said Mr. Lyons.

The group released its report in the summer without much public notice, but its recommendations alarmed Progressive Conservative health critic Jeff Yurek. He said much larger health units would delay a timely response to a health crisis.

Both Mr. Lyons and Mr. Yurek highlighted a number of concerns about the proposals. The health units now have board members from the communities they serve, many communities would have to go without representation on LHIN sized health units. The expert panel assumes larger bureaucracies will be more effective and efficient, but the duo suggest history has proven otherwise. They point out the amalgamation of communities and hospitals in Ontario in the past did not produce savings and may have added to costs. They feel the changes will lead to centralization and if anything goes awry it would mean less accountability and less local oversight.

Dr. Sutcliffe pointed out, “consultation on the proposed changes ends at the end of October, then this goes to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MOHLTC) and ultimately a recommendation is made to the minister (MOHLTC) and a final report will be released. She said the SDHU board will be discussing the province’s proposal for the reorganization and be  making its final feelings known in October.