Sudbury’s health unit faces uncertain future: NDP

Sudbury Star

Sudbury MPP Jamie West and Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas addressed an audience at the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Copper Cliff, Ont. on Friday March 22, 2019. John Lappa/Sudbury Star

Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas, who is also the NDP’s health critic, is decrying cuts made to Public Health Sudbury and Districts.

She said Tuesday that Doug Ford’s deep cuts to PHSD will leave families less protected, less safe and less healthy.

“Public Health Sudbury and Districts is vital to the health and safety of our families,” Gélinas said. “Infectious disease control, overdose prevention, restaurant inspections and ensuring our drinking water is safe — PHSD delivers all that and more, and we shouldn’t have to cancel any of those things. This cut will have devastating consequences for families in Sudbury and Manitoulin and ultimately, puts their lives at risk. There is nothing more important, but Doug Ford wants to siphon that money away for his own priorities.”

Ford is cutting public health units throughout the province by billions of dollars, and cutting the number of local units to just 10, down from 35. This means Public Health Sudbury and Districts could face a massive funding cut or be eliminated altogether.

“Many questions remain and the full scope, financial details and specific timelines for these changes have yet to be communicated, but we anticipate the impact will be immense,” said Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre, who chairs the board of Public Health Sudbury and Districts. “Locally, we are working to understand the implications and communicate to staff and the community what we know so far.”

Ford’s first provincial budget, released  April 11, makes cuts to services like public health units, even though Ford is spending more, over all, than the Kathleen Wynne Liberals did, the NDP said.

“Only Doug Ford could spend more than Kathleen Wynne while still cutting health care, letting thousands of teachers go and squeezing all the things that matter to families,” Gelinas said. “Ford just doesn’t believe it’s his job to protect people.”

As per the provincial budget, funding cuts in the amount of $200 million are to be achieved across the local public health system by the fiscal year 2021-22. This represents a potential reduction in provincial grants for cost-shared programs of up to 27 per cent.

The health unit is bracing for change and increased resource constraints, Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Sudbury and districts medical officer of health, said.

“We are mobilizing within the northeast and are working with our four neighbouring public health units to get ready for change,” she said. “We have had a northeastern collaborative shared services project underway and it is now adjusting its focus to how together we can shape the restructuring of the public health system across the region. My goal is that we are an early adopter and figure out how best to serve the public health needs of people in the North East – all within a context of one new organization and severely constrained resources.”

Effective immediately, Public Health Sudbury and Districts has implemented several strategies in response to the provincial budget. These include a hiring freeze and the cancellation of all non-essential spending.

“Public health programs and services are essential to the health of local communities,” Sutcliffe added. “We will continue to offer the full scope per the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s Ontario public health standards, without interruption and for as long as possible.”

Gelinas said the NDP will continue to fight back against the Ford cuts.

“New Democrats will push back against Ford’s callous cuts to keep families safe and ensure northern residents have a say in northern health care,” she said. “We learned from events like SARS and the Walkerton water tragedy that public health units are an integral part of keeping us safe, and keeping us healthy, every day. We can’t afford to let Doug Ford take that away from us.”

sud.editorial@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @SudburyStar

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