Public health starts with prevention and health promotion

By MPP Toby Barrett

To build healthier communities, the Ontario government must consider how best to deliver public health in a way that is resilient, efficient, nimble and modern. This must be done in a way that meets the evolving health needs and priorities of Ontario’s families.

For too long, public health has existed in isolation from the broader health care system – a concern highlighted by Ontario’s Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk. The provincial government has now developed a comprehensive plan to help keep Ontarians healthy and out of hospitals through prevention and health promotion.

In 2017, the Auditor General reported public health units are poorly coordinated and duplicate work. She also reported public health services are delivered inconsistently across the province. Christine Elliott, Ontario’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, has shouldered the responsibility to help build a public health care system that works for all.  We feel past governments forgot the nearly three million people who live outside of major metropolitan areas who face unique challenges.

An example of this is the provincially-funded Seniors Dental Program – available in urban centres under the previous government but only introduced in Haldimand-Norfolk in 2019. This was an election promise our government made and kept.

While our government is proud of the progress made over the past year, particularly in starting to correct the long-standing inequities, which have disadvantaged rural and remote small-town communities like Haldimand-Norfolk, we need to do more. The status quo is not an option.

There is great value in the excellent work done in communities across the province that is keeping people healthy. To that end, the Ontario government is working with its municipal partners to design a public health system centered on the following principles: consistency and equity of service delivery across the province; improved clarity and alignment of roles and responsibilities between the province, Public Health Ontario and local health; unlock and promote leading innovative practices and strengths across Ontario; and closer relationships to primary care and the broader health care system to end hallway health care and improve health promotion and prevention.

The province has increased the municipal share of funding for public health programs from 25 to 30 per cent for public health programs. However, last year the province offered one-time mitigation funding to assist local health boards and municipalities manage increased costs for the 2020 calendar year. In 2019, the provincial government contributed approximately $7 million in funding to the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit to support the provision of public health programs and services.

Through the Municipal Modernization Fund, the Ontario government is investing $200 million to help 405 small and rural municipalities realize efficiencies and plan for their future. Both Haldimand and Norfolk Counties received $725,000.

Recently, there have been staff reductions at the local health unit. Bear in mind, public health nurses are the frontline workers that prevent infectious disease and provide health services to those who don’t have a family doctor.

The elimination of key programs is unique to our area and not witnessed across the province. Will these program cuts bring savings? What are the efficiencies being realized?

Through coordination, collaboration and cooperation, we can tackle the challenges and take hold of these opportunities to build a more robust and effective public health system.

For the latest on Corona Virus, go to the provincial website.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk