The Haldimand-Norfolk Board of Health has identified priorities for the potential restructuring of the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.
This includes keeping front-line functions local while uploading administration, data systems and other regional considerations to a new, over-arching authority.
If there has to be restructuring, the local board wants the new headquarters geographically centred within the new catchment area, as opposed to the nearest urban centre.
The local board also wants programming that is sensitive to the unique health challenges facing the two counties.
In Norfolk, this includes consideration for the 5,000 Low German Mennonites who live in the west half of the county as well as the 3,000 offshore labourers who live and work in Norfolk for the better part of the year.
“Each of them has unique health challenges,” Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Norfolk and Haldimand’s medical officer of health, told the board during its regular monthly meeting in Simcoe on Feb. 4.
“When we think of our health district, the priorities we’d set would be different than Hamilton, Toronto and Niagara Falls. We are different — and not in a good or bad way – than an urban district. If that were put forward, staff would be supportive of that.”
The Ontario government announced last year it would like to restructure Ontario’s 35 health units into 10. It backtracked on that last summer but continues to explore opportunities for efficiencies. The Ministry of Health and Long-term Care has since indicated that reforms could come within the context of the status quo.
Haldimand and Norfolk understand they could be partnered with other municipalities in this part of the province. Questions remain about that potential configuration and governance of the same.
As part of the restructuring, the health ministry has asked health boards to brainstorm on what a new arrangement might look like.
The local board took an hour on Dec. 4 to ponder these matters. A delegation from the local area is expected to share the board’s findings with the province later this month.
Norfolk council serves as the board of health for Haldimand as well as itself due to Norfolk’s larger population.
This arrangement was approved 20 years ago when the new Norfolk and the new Haldimand came into being. If a new, larger health unit is established, Norfolk council is unlikely to serve in this capacity.
Board members felt somewhat hamstrung because they don’t know if new partners are in the cards.
If Hamilton, Niagara Falls, Brantford or London are in the mix, that changes the dynamic dramatically. A more homogeneous mix – one with a genuine community of interest — would see Haldimand and Norfolk partnered with other rural municipalities along the north shore of Lake Erie.
“We won’t know what to look at until we know what our region is going to be,” said Simcoe Coun. Ryan Taylor. “Maintaining rural voices is really what we’re here for.”
Miranda agreed. She said some health boards have taken the initiative and suggested which boundaries work best for them.
“It’s like chasing the dog, isn’t it?” Miranda said. “It’s a little bit backward. There are so many options being presented.”
Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp, chair of the local board of health, said Norfolk and Haldimand might have to fight for their priorities. Factor an urban centre into the equation such as London or Hamilton, the mayor said, and their voices are likely to predominate. Miranda agreed.
“We want to fight for our local voice and to set our priorities locally representing our local populations,” Miranda said.
For his part, Vittoria Coun. Chris Van Paassen said the province has more faith in restructuring than he does. The goal is “economies of scale,” Van Paassen said, adding bureaucracies – in the end – have a way of frustrating this objective.
“I’ve never seen a bureaucracy achieve an ‘economy of scale,’” Van Paassen said. “They always seem to achieve an ‘economy of their own.’”