Updated: Oct 28, 2019
BRACEBRIDGE- Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit is lobbying the district of Muskoka for support to remain in tact and against a potential transfer to the northern board citing possible higher levy increases than in the south.
On Oct. 21 Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit chief medical officer of health, and Anita Dubeau, SMDHU chair, were asking for council support to retain Muskoka within boundaries of the Simcoe-Muskoka health unit.
Gardner provided background and noted that in 2005 the provincial government re-aligned boundaries and Muskoka was moved from the north health unit to Simcoe.
“We are very happy to have Muskoka within out mist,” said Dubeau.
The main mandate of the unit is to prevent disease and to promote and protect the health of the citizens of Muskoka.
Programming focuses on vaccine administration, water, and food protection.
The unit has a total of 14 board members.
Gardner begun his presentation with the fact that on April 11 the provincial budget announced radical changes to public health.
He said that 35 health units will be cut to 10 regional public health entities and the province will reduce its share of funding by $200 million by 2021/22.
Since then the ministry provided the board with further information and indicated that the new autonomous board of health would begin its mandate on April 1, 2020.
It also suggested that public health services in Muskoka would be provided by a north eastern public health unit which would include health units extending all the way to James Bay.
Dr. Gardner informed district councillors that the funding ratio in 2020 would be 70 provincial/30 municipal.
There are only two health units in the province which were cited to be split in this way, the other one was Renfrew.
“We worked very hard to optimize our services throughout our district and to provide the best of public services. The splitting of Muskoka and Simcoe apart would disrupt these services, disrupt relationships we have,” Dr. Gardner told council.
If Muskoka would have to merge with other north eastern health units he is not sure how that would affect referrals.
“It’s worth noting that health services tend to go south here for referrals, and we also know that by splitting up Muskoka and Simcoe the job of merging with other areas is much more complex,” he said.
According to Gardner the levy’s for public health units in the north were so high, that according to the boards mathematical projections, the district would fair better staying with Simcoe.
On May 15 SMDHU board made its recommendation to the province that the full territory that is part of the Simcoe-Muskoka unit remain in tact and join York region.
York region took the position that they want to remain as they are.
Dr. Gardner attempted to offset the fact that municipalities will once again be on the hook for health care funding, and said the province will provide transitional funding in 2020 with the intention of limiting levy increases by no more than 10 percent. The board had indicated that there could be a levy increase as high as 33 percent.
The Simcoe-Muskoka unit boundaries are also up for question.
Coun. Tim Withey began the recommendation discussion and asked if the boards intention is to keep Simcoe-Muskoka its own entity unassociated with other regions.
Dr. Gardner said the primary interest is to keep Simcoe and Muskoka together regardless of where “we go.”
Coun. Ruth Nishikawa said it was the first time she has seen the numbers, and questioned the fact that municipalities are expected to support 30 percent of the health care funding.
In short the answer was yes. However, the board believes the numbers have been recalculated to reflect a lower percentage.
Withey noted that prior to the LIHN network in 2005 Muskoka did belong to the Northern board. He wanted to know if there were other units resisting the move to the North.
Subsequently he was curious if referrals would go both north and south for Muskoka residents.
Gardner answered by saying health units in the North have discussed how to collaborate more closely. Unfortunately those discussions did not include the Simcoe Muskoka board on the assumption that “Muskoka is not part of them.”
He is not sure how the Northern units feel about Muskoka using a portion of their territory.
The topic of the influx of tourist numbers in the region during summer months and the ability of the Northern public health unit to handle the volume was surfaced by Coun. Mike Peppard.
Dr. Gardner said in phone conversation with their north counterparts, surprise was noted by the tourist numbers.
In short the SMDHU’s original motion requested the Minister of Health keep the full territory of the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit intact and join with York region.
Following a lengthy discussion the resolution hinged on the exchange of two words and York Region.
SMDHU chair noted herself that the motion from council to the province should remove the mention of York Region.
“York region doesn’t want us, so why should we mention them,” Dubeau said.
Councillors were set on crafting a new resolution. Coun. Withey asked for a deferral.
After some confusion regarding board recommendations potentially changing in the future. Therefore, the prematurity of a district council resolution in support of a recommendation. And following 15 minutes of councillor word tennis, Coun. Phil Harding tailored the final resolution by exchanging “support” to “recommend.”
“We’re debating supporting the recommendation that is confusing right now ... what we are actually saying is that we are recommending that the unit remains in tact. We are not supporting the concept, we are recommending it,” he explained.
Coun. Sandy Cairns had asked to remove any reference to York.
The recommendation motion carried.