Health units in northern Ontario brace for big change

Sudbury MPP Jamie West says he expects the health units in northern Ontario will be reduced to one after sweeping cuts are imposed by the provincial government.

Sudbury MPP Jamie West expects 5 health units will be dissolved into 1

Health Units in northern Ontario could be reduced to one following cuts, Sudbury MPP Jamie West says. (sasirin pamai/Shutterstock)

Sudbury MPP Jamie West says he expects the health units in northern Ontario will be reduced to one after sweeping cuts are imposed by the provincial government.

Although no details have been released about the proposed dissolution of health units across the province, West says a lone northern provider is the most likely outcome, based on the region's sparse population.

"I'd be delighted to be proven wrong," West told CBC News. "But so far the information we have is that northeastern Ontario will have one [health unit.]"

Health Units administer vaccinations, advise communities of boil water alerts and conduct research to better tailor health care to their communities.

In April, the Progressive Conservative government announced it plans to dissolve the province's 35 health units, and replace them with 10 new ones. Details of which units will go, or which will remain haven't been made available yet.

According to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care's web site, health units operate in North Bay, Sudbury, Porcupine (Timmins), Sault Ste. Marie and Temiskiming. 

But Health Units in the region are being proactive before the cuts are announced.

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe is the medical officer of health at Public Health Sudbury and Districts. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Chief Medical Officer for Public Health Sudbury and Districts, says her team has been working closely with other jurisdictions at options for collaborating efficiently.

"I think that even before this budget there is a need to look at better efficiencies with regard to decreasing resources in the context of increasing needs for public health," Sutcliffe said.

She cited concerns around health equity, dealing with ever-increasing opioid addictions and drug use and a comprehensive approach to mental health.

"One of the things that I'm challenging myself and my team and colleagues to think about is not so much bricks and mortar, but more the function," Sutcliffe said.

"Are there some functions of work that we do that might be better off on a regional basis, some functions that are better off on a local basis? I think we're challenged to think about a different way of working that is effective and that is absolutely protecting and promoting health," she said. "In this instance, potentially throughout the northeast."

Monika Dutt, CEO of the Timiskaming Health Unit, says her team is being proactive in readying for likely funding cuts. (Twitter- @Monika_Dutt)

Dr. Monika Dutt, Medical Officer of Health and CEO of Timiskaming Health Unit, said rumours of the proposed cuts have been distracting, but health teams are still focussing on the job at hand.

"We have fantastic local staff doing a whole range of activities, whether it's public health nurses out in schools or giving vaccines or doing our clinics. We have our public health inspectors who do the inspections as well as many other things."

"We have kind of a range of people who help with data and understanding our local information to make sure that our programs and policies that we put in place as well as partners put in place reflect the local local communities."

"I can't say it's not a challenge to kind of keep it motivated and keep everyone keen while but there is some worry about what might be coming," she said. "At the same time we are dedicated as we can be to making sure our local staff and our local presence stays really strong through what changes may come."


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