It seems the Board of the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and Huntsville and District Councillor Tim Withey are at odds over whether Muskoka should join a public health entity to the north or south when the Province realigns the boundaries.
Medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner is asking for municipal support in urging the Province to maintain the current territory of the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit together when it joins with York Region on April 1, 2020, to form a new public health entity. Gardner’s request is in response to plans announced during the Provincial budget to reduce Ontario’s 35 health units to 10, with new independent boards of health being formed by 2020-2021.
Under the proposed boundary changes by the Province, the Simcoe County portion of the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) would merge with York Region, while the Muskoka portion would merge with a new regional body that would also encompass Sudbury, North Bay, Parry Sound, Algoma, Porcupine, Timiskaming, and part of Renfrew, an area that extends to James Bay, states a media release issued by the Board of the SMDHU in May.
“We believe that the division of our Muskoka and Simcoe operations will disrupt and undermine the delivery of public health programs to Muskoka,” Gardner is quoted as saying in the release. “The proposed geographic area that would include Muskoka is vast – more than 400,000 square kilometres – and providing public health services to such a large and low density area will be extremely challenging,” he adds.
The Province also announced its plans to change the funding formula, thereby increasing the municipal portion of cost-sharing between the Province and municipalities for health unit budgets.
In its release, the board states that legislation to establish the new public health entities is expected to take effect on April 1, 2020, but that the Province has indicated that it is willing to consider input on boundary changes.
Board chair Anita Dubeau is also quoted as saying, “a merger between SMDHU and York Region will be complex… However, splitting the operations between Simcoe and Muskoka at the same time as mergers both with York and six other health units to the north will be overwhelming in its complexity.”
But Councillor Withey does not agree. He asked his fellow Huntsville councillors at their August 26 meeting to oppose the alignment of Muskoka to the south. “The Province has already said… that we’re now going to be back in the north like we were in the past, prior to the Liberals coming into power. I think that can have potential huge benefits for our community by putting the whole area back into northern Ontario, for a lot of other reasons,” he argued.
Withey said District council did not pass a motion on whether to support the recommendation of the Board of the SMDHU but the issue is expected to return to the District table for discussion later this month.
“I’m hoping for my colleagues’ support on this. I think that the arguments are straw dogs, and I believe there’s lots of potential upsides for us to look to the north,” he said. “I’m more concerned about population density that we’re going to be wrapped up with, compared to geography which I really don’t think makes a difference public health-wise.”
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