Hamilton's public health unit expected to disappear with province's plan to amalgamate regional boards

If the province has its way, Hamilton Public Health Services will be no more.

Under a new public health-care plan, it’s expected that the Doug Ford government will combine the city’s care with other municipalities in Niagara, Brant and Haldimand-Norfolk.

Yesterday, Global News learned that four nearby regions — Guelph, Waterloo, Peel and Halton — are expected to be merged after Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health officials were notified by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care on Monday.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton’s medical officer of health, revealed at city hall on Monday that she was on a conference call with the province last week outlining the plan to merge its 35 public health units into 10.

READ MORE: Ontario budget proposes consolidating 35 public health units into 10 regional entities

That move is consistent with Ontario’s budget announcement in April, which proposed the consolidation with an estimated completion date of 2021.

The province contends the action will reduce health-care bureaucracy and overlapping administrative duties, resulting in a projected annual savings of $200 million by 2022.

However, the Conservatives’ plan is expected to reduce overall provincial funding to each of the new amalgamated boards. Under the new plan, the city would see a 60-40 cost share with the province over the next three to four years, equating to about a five per cent shortfall annually for city services.

READ MORE: Public health units in Guelph, Waterloo, Peel and Halton to be merged by province

Richardson said the impact to Hamilton Public Health Services would be a budget shortfall of around $2.4 million for the city annually.

“We don’t have specifics for you today on exactly what the impacts are, but they are lower than what we had provided earlier,” Richardson told Mayor Fred Eisenberger and councillors.

The shortfall is calculated from the much larger Healthy and Safe Communities budget, which is currently about $324 million but expected to drop to about $314 million, pending changes from Queen’s Park.

East end Coun. Chad Collins says there are really only two words to describe the move: “downloading” and “amalgamation.”

LISTEN: Global News Radio’s Bill Kelly talks to Hamilton Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins about the province’s plan to merge 35 public health units into 10

“You know we could all maybe accept some of these decisions if it talked about better services if they talked about efficiencies, but this is really just cost-cutting,” Collins told Global News Radio, “This is simply what, in the case of downloading, is just pushing the cost onto someone else. And so, these costs that are now picked up by the province will be picked up by homeowners locally and elsewhere.”

The change likely means the end of Hamilton’s own public health division as major front-line health decisions for the city are expected to fall on the newly created Niagara, Brant and Haldimand-Norfolk public health unit.

It also means the end of the city’s own medical officer of health, which concerns Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark.

“I have a real problem with us losing our medical officer health here in the City of Hamilton. I think it’s a fundamental rule that we can’t lose,” Clark said at a city council session on Monday. “And when we do lose that and there is an outbreak, and we went through SARS — we saw how important it was to have the employees present to help us through the process.”

READ MORE: Hamilton to receive $1.6 million in provincial funding for mental health and addiction services

Meanwhile, Eisenberger suggested a wait-and-see approach to council.

“I think the challenge that our staff are having is that this information is coming out in little dribs and drabs at a time,” said Eisenberger. “If we had a full picture then we would have something to respond to but we don’t have that.”

Hamilton Public Health Services covers a number of service areas, including public health inspections, parenting programs, sexual health clinics, communicable disease treatment, vaccine clinics, overdose prevention and counselling for alcohol and drugs.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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