Medical officer of health shares MPP’s concerns on planning public health cuts

SUDBURY – During a recent question period, Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas called on Christine Elliott, minister of Health, to cancel planned public health cuts. 

“I think she (Ms. Gelinas) is pointing to the same issues that we have raised that the province is looking to change the funding formula, and where the province had been funding programs 75 percent, they are now going to provide 70 percent for some programs,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Medical Officer of Health for Public Health Sudbury District (PHSD). “This cut in funding provided by the province means an increased burden on local municipalities.” Some boards of health set a budget this year with an increase of 10 percent, she said, noting that for the PHSD the 10 percent increase to municipalities was offset for this year, “due to a one time funding infusion for 2020—not greater than a 10 percent increase.”

On January 1, this government’s cuts and funding share changes to public health will come into effect,” said Ms. Gelinas. She was quoted by Northern Life in its December 17, 2019 edition as saying, “despite the premier hiring an adviser with a six-figure salary to hold consultations on the future of public health in Ontario, can the premier tell us why the government is still going ahead with cuts to public health even as they hold consultations on the future of public health?”

Although the Minister of Health is saying that there are not cuts to public health, the government’s new cost sharing formula tells a different story, said a press release from Ms. Gelinas. Effective January 1, Ontario’s public health units will move to a 70-30 cost share model. 

Programs that were previously 100 percent covered by the Ontario government will only receive 70 percent of their budget and municipalities will have to pay the remaining 30 percent

Programs moving from 100 percent coverage to the 70-30 cost share model include: Healthy Babies Healthy Children, Infectious Disease Control, Healthy Smiles Ontario, Smoke Free Ontario and Enhanced Food Safety, to name a few.

Ms. Gelinas said that due to the government’s cuts to public health, municipalities are now facing really tough decisions. Last week, Chatham-Kent municipal council said that the premier’s cuts to public health and other municipal services will cost them $2.3 million, forcing them to consider raising property taxes. And Wednesday, Barrie’s city council approved increased property taxes because of the provincial cuts. Every municipal government in Ontario that supports a public health unit will be required to find new funds to meet the government’s new formula, the press release said.

“We have had to make some (staffing) cuts, five positions,” said Dr. Sutcliffe. “Fortunately no cuts have had to be made thus far in programs and services, but times are tight, but it will be much more difficult to manage the (PHSD) next budget without cuts to services-programs and increased costs.”