EOHU downsizing office space, ‘struggling’ with budget

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, and Director of Finance Frank Spagnolo speak to county council on Monday, March 20, 2017. Roumeliotis says the health unit will be drastically reducing its floor space at SD&G and Prescott-Russell offices in order to save staff and programming. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

SD&G – The head of the region’s health unit says the agency is downsizing its footprint as it is “struggling to make ends meet,” mainly due to a lack of funding from the Ontario government.

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, told county councillors Monday morning about the budget constraints as it struggles to provide health programming to SD&G and Prescott-Russell.

“We were told (by the province) to expect zero (per cent) and ask for two (per cent),” Roumeliotis said.

The draft 2017 EOHU budget stands at just over $12.5 million – roughly $60,000 less than the 2016 budget.

Through a cost sharing agreement, roughly 33 per cent of the EOHU municipal revenue comes from SD&G (just over $1 million) while 24 per cent or $745,000 comes from the City of Cornwall.

Approximately $9.5 million comes from the Ministry of Health.

In order to not to sacrifice staff (Roumeliotis estimates it would be 10 positions), the health unit is downsizing its office space, starting with the Rockland and Hawkesbury locations where leases are up this year, Roumeliotis explained. Downsizing will also take place at Alexandria and Winchester.

“It’s a new way of doing business,” he said.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit delivers public health programs, such as those covering drinking water and disease prevention, but it will have more on its plate this year as the province aligns new responsibilities through its Patients First plan for health care.

Roumeliotis also touched on some of the current issues in society, including the Fentanyl epidemic. “It’s a mental health issue,” suggesting that the majority of illicit Fentanyl users have a mental health problem.

While reducing footprints in the rural areas, Coun. Eric Duncan was concerned about future spending on a Cornwall building.

Roumeliotis conceded that the Pitt Street building does need to be replaced, but that would be funded at 100 per cent from the Ministry of Health.

“We will not at all change the patterns of service,” he insisted.