Local health care changes come with $900K price tag

CK public health unit. (Photo courtesy of CKPHU)

For the first time since the province announced changes to public health funding, residents and councillors in Chatham-Kent are getting a look at what it will mean for the municipality.

Dr. April Rietdyk, the general manager of community human services at the Chatham-Kent Health Unit, met with the Ministry of Health earlier in the month to discuss the changes, however, the exact details of the meeting had to be kept under wraps until this week. During Monday night’s council meeting, Rietdyk made a presentation explaining some of the implications that the 2019 provincial budget will have on public health.

In the Tories’ first provincial budget, released at the beginning of April 2019, were plans to cut the number of public health units from 35 to 10. Other cuts included looking at cutting Ontario’s 59 local ambulance services down to just 10.

At the end of April, the Chatham-Kent Health Unit was notified by the government of changes to the cost-sharing ratio that will put the municipality on the hook for nearly $1 million. The changes will effect cost-shared programs as well as programs that were previously 100 per cent government funded.

The 2018 budget for the Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit was around $9.5 million with 79 per cent of that funded by the province and 21 per cent funded with municipal dollars. However, starting in April 2019, the government has changed the cost-sharing arrangments to 70 per cent provincial and 30 per cent municipal.

The nine per cent increase means around $900,000 in additional municipal dollars would be required for the budget year. However, for 2019, the municipality will receive one-time mitigation funding of $700,000, leaving Chatham-Kent on the hook for $200,000.

Not included in that amount is the health unit’s $1.1 million Healthy Babies, Healthy Children program that is normally 100 per cent provincially funding. Rietdyk said they haven’t heard anything about the status of the program in their 2019 funding. For 2019 Chatham-Kent will, however, be getting $600,000 of 100 per cent provincially funding dollars towards the new Low Income Seniors Dental Program.

In April 2020, the 70-30 cost-sharing ratio will remain, however without the mitigation funding. Rietdyk also explained there is a proposed 10 per cent base budget cut across the board in 2020. According to Rietdyk, the province suggested to the municipality to make up for the cuts by finding “administrative efficiencies.” She added that the municipality has little choice in the matter.

“That’s a significant impact to health units across the province,” she said. “They are also indicating that no programs or services can be impacted with this funding change.”

The cost sharing will go up to 40 per cent for the municipality in April 2021 when the province merges the health units in Chatham-Kent with the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, the health units in Sarnia-Lambton and London-Middlesex and with Southwestern Public Health.

Many expressed concerned that on top of additional costs, merging the health units will mean Chatham-Kent will get lost in the shuffle. Councillor Joe Faas, who is the chair of the Chatham-Kent Board of Health, was vocal about his fears that merging CK with other health units will cause the municipality to lose their autonomy.

“Addressing local needs and responding to those needs in a way that makes the most sense to the community, has always been at the core of public health,” Faas said. “By merging different health units and mandating that they report to one regional Board of Health, it weakens their overall ability to meet local needs in a way that our community requires those needs to be met. Existing complications around things like transportation and access could be magnified when the service area is expanded so significantly in such a short period of time.”

Mayor Darrin Canniff echoed some of Faas’ statements and said he recognizes that the changes to public health will be a challenge to manage over the long run.

“Certainly when you look at how we’re being consolidated up, we’re being put up into a group of 1.4 million so we represent seven or eight per cent of those,” Canniff said. “So, certainly that is a concern — is our voice going to be heard?”

Following the presentation by Rietdyk, CK Public Health posted a statement on their Facebook page.

“What the future of public health will look like, locally, is uncertain and during this time we ask you to please join us in using the hashtag #WeAreCKPublicHealth as we move forward, steadfastly serving the residents of Chatham-Kent as we have always done,” the statement read.