Drawing a sample from a beach (Photo supplied by: Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit)
BARRIE, ON – The looming changes for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit will be in many forms.
That’s according to the medical officer for health, Dr. Charles Gardner.
He says the size and scope of potential new boundaries if Muskoka is included in a Northern health unit could be unmanageable, and that regardless of the size of a health unit, the standards will remain the same.
“So far, the ministry staff have told us they have the expectation that we would completely comply with all the public health standards,” said Dr. Gardner.
“And that would speak to the number of restaurant inspections and that type of thing. And if we were able to maintain our resources, I am hoping that in Muskoka they would continue to get that level of service.”
Dr. Charles Gardner (provided by SMDHU)
Dr. Gardner is relieved that the government recently reversed its stand on cutting funding for the current year as it could have had disastrous effects on municipalities that already struggle to stay within tight budgets.
However, he said downloading of services to those same communities next year will be a potential problem.
“Municipalities have made it clear that having downloading mid-year is extremely hard for them because their budgets are set,” he said.
That leaves more time for the board to decide on what levy charges can be made to the various towns and cities.
Dr. Gardner is in favour of the current health unit staying as Simcoe Muskoka and being absorbed by the York Region health unit.
He believed that work such as water testing of public access beaches and restaurant inspections would become tough to manage if the current resources for Muskoka were stretched as far north as James Bay and as far east as Renfrew.
He also said the timing of the reorganization is troubling, though he understands it would be done in stages.
“The idea of amalgamation or border change by April 1st (2020) is very fast,” he contended.
He said because it is not just happening in one area, but all over the province, there will have to be changes to content made in the provincial health protection and promotion act to make it happen.
“It may very well be that the job is not done on April 1st,” said Dr.Gardner.
“Perhaps the boards are set, but operations probably will not be changed at that point.”
Despite the worry about carrying out services under new structuring guidelines, Dr. Gardner admits some savings can be had by amalgamating health units, and in some cases helping smaller communities.
“I think in some cases it might help with capacity,” he explained.
“We’ve had in the province some small units where that has been identified for years that it is a challenge. And so coming together and becoming bigger ones might mean they have got more support overall.”
For now, Dr. Gardner and the SMDHU will continue campaigning with the communities the health network serves and the province about the benefits of Muskoka moving with Simcoe into the newly expanded York Region health unit.