Health unit responds to budget cuts, consolidation

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – The region’s health unit has responded to the proposed cuts and consolidation to public health announced in this month’s provincial budget.

In a so-called “position statement” released Thursday morning, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit board says the province-wide $200 million cut and merging 35 health units into 10 could have “significant long and short-term impacts” on the community.

It says the cuts in the provincial budget – released two weeks ago – were announced “suddenly and with few details” from the province.

The health unit mergers are supposed to happen over the next two years.

The health unit board chairman, Syd Gardiner, and Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, are concerned that a broader regional health unit will “reduce the capacity for public health to address the unique challenges of the eastern counties.”

SD&G and Prescott-Russell are known for higher rates of chronic disease, obesity, poverty, single parent families and mental health issues.

They are also concerned there will be a less effective last-minute response to emergencies like water monitoring during the tugboat disaster on the St. Lawrence River, the cheese factory fire in St. Albert or the immunization clinics for the H1N1 crisis.

It’s also going to hit municipal budgets. As Gardiner revealed on Tuesday night, the City of Cornwall will have to find $307,000 it didn’t budget for this year.