Province's plan to redraw health unit boundary raises concerns

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) could soon be absorbed by an amalgamated health unit covering the majority of eastern Ontario, according to the city councillor who chairs the OPH board.

Ottawa Public Health would be swallowed by amalgamated unit covering eastern Ontario, councillor says

Coun. Keith Egli, who chairs the board of Ottawa Public Health, said he's looking for more answers from the province about its plan to amalgamate health units. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) could soon be absorbed by an amalgamated health unit covering the majority of eastern Ontario, according to the city councillor who chairs the OPH board.

Under a proposal by the provincial government, the health unit's new boundary would stretch from Presscott-Russell on the border with Quebec to Lennox and Addington County, just west of Kingston, Coun. Keith Egli told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Tuesday.

More people, more land, much less money.- Coun. Keith Egli

The amalgamated unit would cover a population of about 1.7 million people and an area 10 times the size of OPH's current jurisdiction, which includes a population of about one million.

"It's a huge leap from what currently happens in terms of public health in the Ottawa area," Egli said. "More people, more land, much less money."

The province outlined plans to chop the number of local health units in its April budget, reducing the number from 35 to 10 over the next two years, coupled with an annual funding reduction of $200 million, or 27 per cent.

Egli said he's concerned the expansion could diminish the level of public health service Ottawans receive.

"OPH is a little bit like your [general practitioner]. It works best when it knows its people, knows its concerns," he said. "It's going to be a lot more difficult to deliver that same sort of service taking into account all the local issues and concerns."

Different regions, different needs

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health chief executive officer for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU), echoed Egli's concerns.

He said rural and urban areas have different needs that might not all be met by an amalgamated health unit.

The ability to localize, we fear, would be diluted.- Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Eastern Ontario Health Unit

"The bigger the health unit, the less local ability to be able to taper your needs and your community programs to the population's needs," Roumeliotis said.

"That [includes] vulnerable populations and so on, which require local customization of our services, which we actually do now, including French services, Indigenous ... there's a whole slew of things."

The EOHU covers Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, Cornwall, Prescott-Russell, and Akwesasne.

"The ability to localize, we fear, would be diluted. Regardless of how many health units and which ones emerge," Roumeliotis said.

Boundaries aren't final

The proposed boundaries may not be set in stone.

Haley Chazan, press secretary for Health Minister Christine Elliot, said the province plans to consult with municipalities before finalizing changes.

"While the government will bring forward proposals, the specific boundaries of the new regional health units will be finalized in consultation with municipalities," Chazan wrote in an email to CBC.

Egli said he welcomes the consultations, but added he hopes they will be meaningful discussions.

Egli said OPH was told about the proposed boundary on Monday, but noted there are still many unanswered questions, particularly around governance and representation on boards.

"Are they going to be provincially appointed? Are they going to be again a variety of city councils and mayors?" he asked.

"I do want to hold the provincial government's feet to the fire. This has to be a fulsome, robust discussion."

With files from Krystalle Ramlakhan


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