Should the Muskoka part of the health unit merge with York Region?

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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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11 Comments

  1. The government just spent outrageous funds to merge many of the department’s with Simcoe, moving staff positions etc, now they want to separate them? Travel to the “south” is far easier for many with contacts for overnight accommodation and rides to appointments. I fail to see anywhere that having Muskoka in the northern medical cachement makes us part of the North for other government funding. Why would anyone suffering a major health issue want to be mandated to attend appointments 2+ hours away when Barrie is just over an hour??

    • Ms. Chester: similar to Mr. Long’s comment below, no one is mandating where one receives their healthcare for major health issues.
      This issue is about Public Health Unit only. Please have a look at their websites for a comprehensive list of what they do.

  2. I’m not sure that I agree with Mr Withey on this. We in Muskoka are more closely aligned with the population to the south, after all how many people in the North come to Muskoka for their cottages and vacations? If I need an MRI, or other specialized services, I would rather drive to Barrie or Newmarket than to Sudbury or beyond.

    • Thank-you for your comment Mr. Long, however we are talking about the Public Health Unit, not referral patterns. This has nothing to do with where you receive the services you describe. Where you are directed for an MRI or other specialized services are often determined by referrals by your family physician. The last two MRI’s I had were out of the hospital in North Bay, for example. The Health Unit deals with topics like immunizations and healthy baby clinics etc.

  3. When the Province decided that they were going to align us with North York as well. Our argument was that we needed to be aligned with like-minded folk that enjoyed a similar set of interests so we went horizontal rather than vertical. This government has stated that they would entertain putting us back in the North where we belong.

  4. If funding public health is to be shared by municipalities and the province, isn’t it better to be aligned with the more urban areas with bigger tax revenue sources than the smaller northern communities? Or does it wash out because being part of a denser population group will have higher costs? Additionally, there will be many new administration costs for a new larger northern rural region.Joanne Tanaka

  5. This is a “tempest in a teapot” at this time. How many of Ford’s other decisions has he retracted after public opposition? The one portion, however, that won’t change is more downloading on the municipalities. Instead of doing away with district government, perhaps making it the senior level of government, and doing away with the provincial level makes more sense: The province will soon be funding very little anyway, and the Premier is out of touch with the little guy; being a multi-millionaire (tongue firmly in cheek, but still…).

  6. any scenario that makes access to healthcare services more efficient sb welcomed. Will this make healthcare better for Muskoka citizens? Will there be better and quicker access to a specialist? Will Dr’s and nurses have better opportuniies so they would want to remain permanently in the Muskoka region?

  7. WOW! Muskoka missed the boat a long time ago ..by .. keeping the idea of 2 hospitals! The emotion took control, political appts, political jobs etc etc were at stake and those in power …buckled ..to emotion .. not common sense, not future population, not future services, not future funding ..but ..self centered emotion etc etc …and .. now look at the mess we in Muskoka are in! Nothing has changed in 20 years or will change .. we continue to have 2 very old hospitals, old technology, renovation funding issues, MONEY issues galore, foot print issues, no new service delivery and …on and on ..it goes! And ..we in Muskoka for the next 20 years will ..again .. continue to be frozen in time … and .. will continue to need to go south for services, procedures etc etc! Folks .. very bad decisions have been made with no concern for impact and consequence for the future of health care services for EVERYONE! Think about it!

  8. I agree with Mr Withey. I think that it’s far better for us to align with the northern part of Ontario . We should have been part of northern Ontario for all things perhaps this will give them something to think about and make us fully in northern Ontario.

  9. As a small tourist based business that has the fortune/misfortune to be located on lakefront in Muskoka we see minimal services and maximal taxes. Taxes are to the point where, if I was looking to start a new business such as this from scratch today…. I would look elsewhere than Muskoka. Just so you know.

    As for the health unit.
    The existing one seems to work quite well and I am of the opinion not to change something that works.
    This said, I find that in most of my dealings with officials, the further to the north they are located, the simpler these dealings tend to be and also often more logical.

    One thing I wish our wonderful government (that is always trying to “help” us) would do is simply do the water tests required after the Walkerton mess. Currently we have to contract with a private lab, pay shipping costs et. al. for our samples and the cost is high, the convenience low. It would be much much easier to simply use the government health lab via the office in Huntsville for example. Even if we paid a flat fee of maybe $10 per test (private tests are free) it would still be a great help to us. For example, I have a window of delivery for private test pick up that is about an hour long and only on Wed. mornings so that I have to make a special trip to Huntsville (90km) now and that too is an added cost of these private tests.

    Ending with the NORTHERN ONTARIO issue. I just wish the Federal and Provincial governments would sit down and DECIDE where that mythical, ever changing line between the South and North actually is. I’ve been told we are in the “South” here in Huntsville because we have access to many services not available in the North. When I look for what those services are they are hard to find! There are perhaps more permits, fees and user costs here than further to the north but I don’t see much in the way of services that approach those from further south. We still pump our own water, dispose of our waste and haul everything we need or wish to get rid of in our own vehicles as there is no pick up or delivery or public transit or sidewalks or much of anything else for that matter here. They do know how to send a tax bill and MPAC is, I suppose, totally inscrutable both in the south and north.

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