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Guest Blog: Public health changes will reduce rural voice says OMSSA

Date: November 2, 2017

The Minister’s Expert Panel on Public Health has issued a series of recommendations that would drastically change the public health system in Ontario. Ontario Municipal Social Services Association (OMSSA) members are concerned about the proposed changes that would reduce the municipal voice on public health issues. Should the Expert Panel’s recommendations be adopted, urban communities such as Toronto and Peel Region would have their jurisdictions broken up in order to align with the 14 Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN) regions. The result would be that urban communities would have to deal with multiple regions within their jurisdiction. Rural and Northern communities would see regional public health jurisdictions so vast in geographical size that it would be difficult to align with local priorities. In the case of northern Ontario, the northwest and northeast regions are especially large. This has already proven to be a challenge for the existing northern Ontario LHINs and in the past northern Ontario Community Care Access Centres.  

Currently, elected officials often sit on local public health boards. The representation on local public health boards ensures that the local public health units understand the communities they serve and are able to respond to local needs. Under the proposed changes, provincial appointments would replace locally elected and accountable voices. Additional bureaucracy would be created with no evidence to support improvements in health outcomes. Municipal costs will remain the same, but local voices will have a reduced say. 

OMSSA supports further collaboration with the LHINs and health sector outside of the recommendations proposed. While there is always room for improvement, our members have found that their local public health units have been responsive, engaging and have delivered positive results addressing the social determinants of health in their communities. Based on the feedback OMSSA received, urban and rural communities are united in their opposition to the recommendations proposed by the Expert Panel on Public Health. The lack of consultation with municipalities and local public health units has also been noted. 

On October 31, OMSSA sent a submission to Minister Dr. Hoskins. The OMSSA submission can be read in full at: http://www.omssa.com/public-affairs/communications/correspondence/OMSSAResponseExpertPanelPublicHealthRecommendations.pdf