'As lean as we can be': Windsor-Essex health unit's 2020 budget has roughly $500,000 shortfall

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit's 2020 budget was affected by approximately $1.2 million in provincially determined cuts, according to board chair Gary McNamara.

The provincial government provided $700,000 to 'soften the blow,' says WECHU board chair

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit says it addresses public health needs which are specific to the region. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit's 2020 budget was affected by about $1.2 million in provincially-determined cuts, according to board chair Gary McNamara.

McNamara, who also serves as the mayor of Tecumseh and Essex County warden, said the province provided approximately $700,000 to "soften the blow," but added the budget still features a shortfall of "well over half a million dollars that have to be made up by the municipal sector."

Earlier this year, the Ford government announced a series of child care and health care cuts across the province, culminating in municipalities needing to shoulder the weight of 30 per cent of a menu of mandatory services. 

"What that means is we've got to pick up 30 per cent of all of those costs in order for us to [have] the means to maintain those particular programs," said McNamara. 

He added management was "able to find some redundancies within the operations and so forth to help us manage that shortfall," as well as make sure that municipalities wouldn't have to contribute more than 10 per cent.

"Because it's a huge hit for them and the share that we have to pick up," he said.

Listen to Gary McNamara discuss WECHU's 2019 budget with Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre:

A special board meeting of the Windsor Essex County Health Unit board was held in Tecumseh today. The topic? Next year's budget. We spoke with chair Gary McNamara. 9:48

Additionally, five non-union management positions that won't be replaced and roughly four and a half union positions have been made redundant. 

McNamara said those 9.5 positions aren't in addition to the layoffs handed to nine registered nurses part of the Health Families and Schools program. 

"We don't exactly know what the end result will be, because there's a number of factors that play into it," he said. "Certainly, there might be some retirements that might relieve some of those pressures and so forth, but we'll have to wait until actually the dust settles."

The Ontario government also included free dental care for low-income seniors in the 2019-20 budget, which will contribute to the hiring of eight additional staff members.

"Obviously some admin people, some dental hygienists, dentists and so forth," said McNamara, adding he's confident residents won't feel the impact of the province's health care cuts. 

"The services are certainly going to be there," he said. "There's going to be a greater load spread across the organization, but we feel pretty confident that the service will continue."

Nonetheless, McNamara said the health unit is "as lean as we can be and there is no excess fat."

"But moving forward, with these cuts now coming for the 2020 year, that's where the rubber hits the road," he said. "At the end of 2020, moving on to 2021, there are concerns moving forward."

With files from Afternoon Drive


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