Mayor taking a cautious approach to health unit cost-sharing

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens speaks to the media on May 3, 2019. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

Windsor’s mayor says it’s too early to determine how proposed changes to provincial health care will affect local costs.

Drew Dilkens discussed the potential cost implications of the provincial government’s plan to cut Ontario’s 35 health units to 10 starting in January 2020. The Windsor mayor also discussed the proposal to adjust the cost-sharing formula from the current 70 per cent provincial and 30 per cent county, to 60-40, and the possibility of downloading that 10 per cent cost to municipalities.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, the mayor said figuring out any cost changes was premature at this point, and that any impact funding changes may have on local health units must be taken into account first.

“It’s also important for, and encumbered upon the health unit board, to look at the services they’re delivering, to make sure that they’re not simply taking everything they deliver and download it all to the municipality,” said Dilkens. “It may be the opportune time to look at ways to be more efficient.”

The province announced Monday a plan to merge most of Ontario’s regional health units. In southwestern Ontario, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit will merge with those in Chatham-Kent, Sarnia-Lambton and London-Middlesex, as well as Southwestern Public Health, which serves Elgin and Oxford counties.

Essex County Warden Gary McNamara told he is concerned about any strain placed on the municipal tax base, and more questions need to be asked.

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

Dilkens said another issue is that the city does not have a say on how health unit budgets are structured.

“We do not have the liberty to approve or disapprove of a health unit’s budget,” said Dilkens. “If the board approves a budget increase of 10 per cent and that gets passed on to the municipality, we are obliged to pay that 10 per cent.”

The mayor said that since costs can’t be imposed retroactively due to the 2019 budget already being in place, any related expenses must come out of reserves or programs may have to be cut, which Dilkens said he does not want to have to happen.

Dilkens said the city has a meeting set up later in the week so they can get a better understanding of what the province wants to do.

-With files from Paul Pedro