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York Region, Simcoe's new regional health unit explained, sort of

Key elements of the York Region and Simcoe County public health merger into one of Ontario's 10 new regional centres still unknown, regional spokesperson says
2019 01 20 York Region entrance DK
File photo/NewmarketToday

In less than a year, York Region’s public health unit will be merged with fast-growing Simcoe County to become one of Ontario’s 10 new regional public health units.

Only Toronto’s public health unit and boundaries will remain unchanged.

The reduction to 10 regional health units from 35 local teams will see some health units disbanded completely, such as the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, reported this week by Village Media’s BarrieToday.

Simcoe County, which includes a population of about 500,000 spread out over more than 16 towns and townships north of York Region, includes the communities of Barrie, Innisfil, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Collingwood, Orillia, Midland, and others that stretch as far north as Severn River.

Add to that York Region’s booming nine municipalities, including Newmarket, Aurora, Vaughan, Richmond Hill, Markham, Whitchurch-Stouffville, Georgina, King Township and East Gwillimbury, and the makings of a vast, regional public health centre are born. 

In 2017, York Region's share of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area population growth was 14.8 per cent, where it currently sits with 1.2 million residents. Simcoe County's population grew by 7.5 per cent between 2011 and 2016, with a current population pegged at about 479,650. 

NewmarketToday asked the Regional Municipality of York and Newmarket-Aurora MPP and Health Minister Christine Elliot what that means for local citizens. Here’s what they said:

The Ontario government intends to pass legislation in fall 2019 to implement 10 new public health entities with autonomous boards. What does this look like for York Region?

A spokesperson for York’s public health unit said the 10 new boards will replace the existing 35 public health units across Ontario.

The York Region Public Health Unit will be combined with the southern part of the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit (excluding Muskoka), as one public health entity that extends the boundary of the new health entity as far north as Severn River, about 100 kilometres from York public health’s current administrative office on Yonge Street in Newmarket.

The exact geographical boundaries will be finalized at the time legislation is passed.

If legislation is passed, the new public health entity that combines York Region and Simcoe County will be created by April 1, 2020.

What is the board structure for the York Region and Simcoe County entity?

The board for the new entity is expected to be in place by April 2020, a regional spokesperson said. Information about structure and membership of the new board has not yet been provided by Ontario's Health Ministry.

What will this mean for York Region public health?

There has been no information disclosed by the provincial government on how this will impact the current departmental structure, a spokesperson confirmed.

The rationale for modernizing Ontario’s public health units

The Health Ministry notified the province’s 35 local health units late last week of its plan to modernize the way public health units are organized to allow for more efficient service delivery, better alignment with the health care system, and more effective staff recruitment and retention to improve public health promotion and prevention, a spokesperson for Newmarket-Aurora MPP and Health Minister Christine Elliott told NewmarketToday.

“While the government will bring forward proposals, the specific boundaries of the new regional health units will be finalized in consultation with municipalities through technical working groups, which we expect to launch shortly,” spokesperson Hayley Chazan said.

“In the meantime, we are in direct contact with all public health units to provide information about our modernization plan and to answer questions. Through these technical working groups, we will also work with our municipal partners to design governance and delivery models that protect and preserve the voice of all municipalities. In doing so, we will ensure that public health investments better meet the needs of local communities.”

The concerns, criticisms

In its April 2019 budget, the Ontario government announced provincewide funding cuts for public health by almost one-third, effective April 1, 2019.

York Region’s medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji said there’s little doubt the reduction in funding will curtail the services and programs it now provides to residents.

Already, the local public health unit anticipates a $4.1-million shortfall this year to deliver public health programs such as investigating infectious disease outbreaks and offering immunization clinics, inspecting food establishments, running breastfeeding clinics, and monitoring drinking water for safety.

Meanwhile, CUPE Local 905 president Katherine Grzejszczak said the Ford government’s cuts to the public health budget will have unintended consequences.

“This is going to result in disaster, people will die as a result of these cuts,” Grzejszczak told NewmarketToday. “Health and Long-term Care Minister Christine Elliott needs to answer to her constituents.”

A new group known as Common Ground sprung up recently in Newmarket to protest the Ontario government's reform of health care, education and the environment. Its members demonstrate from noon to 1 p.m. every Friday outside MPP Christine Elliott's constituency office.

Association of Local Public Health Agencies president Dr. Robert Kyle has said its members support modernizing the public health system in a way that improves population health.

But the magnitude of the changes proposed and achieving this within less than one year is "exceptionally ambitious" given the intricacies of public health services and their deliberate and appropriate variation among communities, Dr. Kyle wrote in a May 3, 2019 letter to Health Minister Elliott. 

“The pace and breadth of these changes will cause significant disruptions in every facet of the public health system," he said. "It is essential that attendant risks are mitigated, and Ontario’s frontline public health professionals continue to have the local and provincial support that they require to carry out their essential duties to keep Ontarians healthy during this time of transition.”

How public health units work for you

York Region public health staff helps residents stay healthy at all ages and stages by offering evidence-based health programs and services that prevent diseases, support child development, protect resident safety and promote healthy lifestyles.

Services, supports and programs include breastfeeding clinics, help to quit smoking, sexual heath clinics, preventive dental clinics, food and water safety inspections and investigations, infectious disease control and prevention, immunization clinics, and more. 

For more information on the York Region Public Health Unit, visit here.


Kim Champion

About the Author: Kim Champion

Kim Champion is a veteran journalist and editor who covers Newmarket and issues that impact York Region.
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