Logistics discussed as health unit amalgamation begins

BlackburnNews.com file photo. (Photo courtesy Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit)

Meetings are underway to amalgamate public health units in the Chatham-Kent and Sarnia regions into one.

The province had advised the Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit it will eventually merge with the health units in Sarnia-Lambton, Windsor-Essex, London-Middlesex and Southwestern Public Health, which serves Elgin and Oxford counties. However, it is now open to further consultation and ideas before it makes a final decision on boundaries.

Chatham-Kent’s Chief Administrative Officer Don Shropshire had a preliminary meeting with Sarnia-Lambton officials on September 13, 2019 to begin talking about shared synergies and cost-sharing between the two public health units. A report going before Chatham-Kent council Monday night asks for authorization to enter into negotiations with Sarnia-Lambton to restructure and/or consolidate the two public health units into a regional public health unit with the respective councils having final approval.

The report stated Chatham-Kent sees this as an opportunity to provide an alternative to the proposed geographic restructuring, and to request a governance model that maintains what Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton have had for 20 years. Shropshire said Chatham-Kent wants to control its own future and added that sharing services is better than cutting them.

“Are there ways that we can provide support to each other for delivery of services?” said Shropshire.

Shropshire said the Lambton Public Health Unit has a similar culture and he has received positive comments from officials in Sarnia-Lambton.

“Do we have enough shared interest that this is going to make sense for us to sit down? And we said yes there is,” he added.

Shropshire said the main focus is on a manageable board of directors and cost-sharing.

“We’re also making sure that any cost reductions are not going to result in a reduction in our service delivery to our clients that’s unintended. So, we need to make some balanced decisions in investigating those sort of things,” Shropshire said.

The province is consolidating 35 health units down to 10 by 2021/2022 to save $200 million a year. The funding formula will also change to see the cost to municipalities increase from zero per cent to 30 per cent immediately, which will mean a $900,000 shortfall for Chatham-Kent.