Kitchener-Waterloo

Reconsider public health restructuring, regional councillors tell province

Waterloo regional councillors voted in committee Tuesday to send a letter to the province about concerns over plans to amalgamate public health boards. The province plans to combine Waterloo region, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Peel region and Halton region into one board. 

Province needs to hear 'this is not an improvement,' regional chair says

The region's community services committee passed a motion Tuesday to send a report to the province with concerns about the implications of the restructuring public health boards in Ontario. (Kirthana Sasitharan/CBC)

Plans by the province to reorganize public health boards will not improve the system, Region of Waterloo Chair Karen Redman says.

Her comments come after the region's community services committee passed a motion Tuesday to send a letter to the province and the minister of health listing concerns about plans to amalgamate public health boards. Regional council also serves as the local board of health.

The current plan by the province would combine Region of Waterloo, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Halton region and Peel region into one board. It would be the largest of the province with total population being served

"This is not a step forward, this is not an improvement," Redman said during a break in the committee meetings. "We would like to see the province reconsider this huge catchment area."

The region recommends seven points in the report that will be forwarded to the province, including advising Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Health Christine Elliott that the current public health system in Waterloo region is already working and they should consider "reducing the total population size and geographical scope" of the new regional public health system, if it goes through.

Coun. Elizabeth Clarke, chair of the committee, said "we can't underestimate the significance of [this] change" on the region.

Restructuring 'won't be money saving'

Redman says the recommendations are meant to point out to the province that there will be unintended consequences. 

"This [restructuring] won't be money saving," Redman said.

"The fear of Waterloo region and other municipalities that have a fully integrated public health service system is that there are so many other benefits that happen by them being integrated whether it's commenting on housing [or] commenting on groundwater." 

The council is also asking the province to integrate municipal representation for the boards of health that are being created, ensure there are appropriate transition periods for the restructuring and reconsidering the planned provincial-municipal cost sharing methods if the restructuring were to go through. 

During committee discussion of the matter, Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry said there's been a lack of discussion around IT systems and how all systems will communicate if this restructuring goes through.

She says there was no work being done on digital records and electronic health records. Redman says the IT requirements is a definite concern. 

"How are we going to integrate that number of people and that number of jurisdictions to make sure that we can triage emerging issues," she says.

Redman says her personal fear with the restructuring is the possible lack of responsiveness and lack of accountability from once the system is changed. 

"It's not just what public health has done and does now, it's about emerging issues that come forward when we can look to public health," she says.

The report highlights it is too early to tell "what the final impact of the province's plans for restructuring and funding changes in the public health sector will be on the regional tax levy." Regional staff expect to know once the transition is complete.

"There is a variety of ways public health is delivered and administered across the province. We know what works for our region and we know the benefits we feel we will lose if we go into this other model," says Region of Waterloo Chair Karen Redman. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

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