An expert panel for the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care is proposing dramatic changes to Ontario's public health system.

In a report, the panel describes how it would replace the 36 local health units currently in the province with 14 regional entities.

The recommendation is currently in the public consultation phase.

Sudbury city councillor Rene Lapierre chairs the Sudbury and District Board of Health. 

At a city council meeting this week, Lapierre made a motion to review the restructuring proposal..

Proposed boundaries mapped against current LHIN boundaries

The panel recommends that Ontario establish catchment areas for the 14 regional public health entities that are consistent with LHIN boundaries and respect existing municipal boundaries. The coloured areas on this map show the panel's suggestions for northern Ontario. The black lines indicate current health unit districts. (Ministry of Health and Long Term Care)

"I found [the report] very interesting. I think there's some very good things. But I think there's a couple things that municipalities should voice - either their concerns, or maybe they're for it."

Municipalities pay up to 25 per cent of the public health budget in their areas. Lapierre is concerned this funding formula could change.

"I just want to make sure that what we're getting stays the same, the services stay the same, but it doesn't cost us a fortune on top of that."

Other councillors, like Evelyn Dutrisac, are concerned about losing local representation. She says the city needs to outline the work of the local public health unit.

"I definitely think that we need to report to the province that what the health units are doing in our community is really helping the needs of our community," says Dutrisac.

Details still needed says Sudbury MOH

If the province tries this new regional approach, it will be important to maintain essential links with local municipalities says Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, the Medical Officer of Health and CEO of the Sudbury and District Health Unit.

Penny Sutcliffe

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, CEO of the SDHU, says even with a regional approach to health care, the province will still need to maintain links with municipalities (Roger Corriveau CBC)

She says there are details that still need to be ironed out.

"It's trying to strike a balance. Have they struck the right balance? I don't know. I think that still needs to be determined as part of the consultation and dialogue about the details of these recommendations."

Many boards of health are made up of local citizens and elected municipal officials, which provides engagement with decision makers, Sutcliffe says.

With the governance structure the panel is proposing, Sutcliffe says she feels local representation could diminish, with fewer representatives from each community on the regional boards.

Since northeastern Ontario is a large geographic area, any changes would need to ensure the regional entity would still attend to the needs of local communities Sutcliffe says.

"I think that as long as we keep our end goal in mind — that being the health of Ontarians and how we can best support the health of Ontarians — then we can't go wrong."

The city will review the panel's report and provide feedback to the Ministry by the end of October.

With files from Robin De Angelis