Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Board of Health passed a motion on Wednesday to explore merging with other public health units as part of the Ontario government’s plan to strengthen the public health sector.
On Aug. 22, the province announced that it would work to “refine and clarify the roles of local public health units,” in order to reduce overlap of services and increase access to public health programs.
“One-time funding, resources and supports will be offered to local public health agencies that voluntarily merge to streamline and reinvest back into expanding programs and services,” a news release from the province stated.
In a presentation to the local board of health, local medical officer of health Piotr Oglaza addressed some background information that has led the province to seek the potential merging of some of the province’s health units.
“The stated context for this plan was based on the historical perspective of long-standing challenges within the public health sector in Ontario related to capacity, stability and sustainability, along with implications for inequitable health outcomes for Ontarians, that have been identified through multiple reports over the past 20 years,” Oglaza wrote in the meeting’s agenda package.
KFL&A Public Health is a local public health agency that serves approximately 210,000 residents, which Oglaza says is below the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s stated goal of a local public health system with “larger LPHAs serving a minimum of 500,000 residents.”
Oglaza said the province is offering funding and resources to not only perform a merger but also to cover the cost of exploring what that process would look like, including the hiring of consultants to generate information needed.
“It’s the opportunity for us to take advantage of the supports that the government is willing to commit to this process,” he said.
“The theme of capacity and mergers has been a recurring theme over the past 20 years. The chances are high that this will come back at some point. At this point, we have the opportunity to be in the lead, to be in the driver’s seat, to be controlling what’s happening to us and what our future state is going to look like.”
Board chair Wess Garrod asked Oglaza why public health should consider exploring a voluntary merger.
Oglaza expressed that the risk of not exploring it is in the potential for a lack of control down the road.
“The risk of not taking on that opportunity right now is that in the future, any future government is going to look at that and they might come to the conclusion that we need to be told how to do this,” Oglaza said. “There’s a danger in that, because the model that might be proposed to us in the future may not be to our liking, and we will not be able to have a credible argument saying, ‘Give us the resources and let us figure it out,’ because we are given that opportunity right now. So if we don’t take it, it reduces our ability to, in the future, have a significant say in what happens to us.”
The board passed the motion to “explore options for merging with other health units to achieve the ministry’s stated goals to optimize capacity, stability and sustainability of public health and deliver more equitable health outcomes for Ontarians.”