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Government to merge five local public health units

It didn’t take long for the provincial government to follow through on its promise to merge public health units.

In April, the province promised to reduce the number of public health units from 35 to 10 by 2021. BlackburnNews.com has confirmed that the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit will merge with the health units in Chatham-Kent, Sarnia-Lambton and London-Middlesex.  Those will also merge with Southwestern Public Health, which serves Elgin and Oxford counties.

Gary McNamara, the health board chair in Windsor-Essex and Tecumseh’s mayor, said there are a bunch of questions about funding and board representation that still need to be answered and he will be seeking those moving forward.

“It’s [about] trying to figure out the great unknown, how it all is going to filter through,” McNamara said.

McNamara said he is also worried about the additional tax burden being put on the already stretched municipal tax base because of the mergers.

The provincial government also promised earlier this year to merge the 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) and six provincial health agencies, including Cancer Care Ontario and eHealth Ontario, into a “super agency”.

Dr. April Rietdyk, the general manager of community human services at the Chatham-Kent Health Unit, told health board members at their April meeting that “local is important.” She said cutting the provincial health budget by $200 million a year will affect health care services and programs, something McNamara said he hopes doesn’t happen.

McNamara said the communities within this new larger regional health unit have so many different issues that it will be interesting to see how the merger is managed. He said public health is the most important piece of the puzzle and needs to be protected to keep our communities safe and healthy.

“This one here, one size doesn’t fit all,” McNamara said about the health unit in Windsor-Essex. “For us, the most important piece of it all is to make sure that our residents in each and every one of our communities is well attended to.”