Realignment of District Health Units has been a hot topic this week.

Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller says he understands there is concern about where Muskoka may end up in terms of potential new boundaries as 35 units are reduced to 10 across the province.

Miller says Health Minister Christine Elliott has a massive job ahead of her, not only in the regrouping of health units but eventually the breakup of the Local Health Integration Networks as we know them.

“What the minister is trying to achieve is to improve our health system,” Miller says. “There is a big change beyond public health units where we are forming new health teams and in fact we are increasing health funding in health in general by over a billion dollars.”

With news that the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit would see Simcoe possibly join the York Region district to the south and Muskoka would be part of a far-reaching unit stretching all the way to James Bay in the north, the reaction has been swift from key stakeholders.

“We believe that the division of our Muskoka and Simcoe operations will disrupt and undermine the delivery of public health programs to Muskoka,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, SMDHU’s medical officer of health. “The proposed geographic area that would include Muskoka is vast– more than 400,000 square kilometres – and providing public health services to such a large and low-density area will be extremely challenging.”

Under the proposed boundary changes for SMDHU, the Simcoe County portion of the health unit will join with York Region as a new regional public health entity, while Muskoka will join a new regional entity that will also serve Sudbury, North Bay, Parry Sound, Algoma, Porcupine, Timiskaming and part of Renfrew, an area that extends to James Bay.

“A merger between SMDHU and York Region will be complex,” said Anita Dubeau, Chair of the Board of Health. “However, splitting the operations between Simcoe and Muskoka at the same time as mergers both with York and six other health units to the north will be overwhelming in its complexity.”

Miller agrees but says no decisions have been made and consultations need to happen.

“There has been a lot of speculation of what the new boundaries will be and there have been questions about that in question period this week,” he notes. “What (Christine Elliott) has made clear in her answers is they are talking about some possible boundaries but there is a lot of consultation that has to go on.”

Miller says while there has been some negative pushback on cuts by the Ford government, he hopes people understand the long-term reasons behind the decisions.

“The whole reason to get back to balance is to protect what matters most,” he explains. “What matters most is health care and education and social services.”

He says local health units have huge responsibilities regardless of what boundaries they work within.

“We are making changes so in terms of public health they can do the core responsibilities that are so important, things like making sure our water is safe and restaurants are inspected and vaccinations are up to date,” he says. “And dealing with outbreaks that happen, whether it be measles or SARS or whatever else might come along.”

Miller says while he understands there will always be questions asked of the sitting government he is growing weary of what he calls fear-mongering by the opposition and unions in areas such as education.

“It has been most challenging in education where we are increasing funding by $700 million and we have $1.6 billion to make sure no teacher loses their job in the course of the changes being made,” he says. “That has been frustrating from all the fear-mongering from the opposition and the unions because people believe it and it’s not true.”