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New funding gives public health a 'breather room', but future remains unknown

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government planned to consolidate the state's public health department from 35 to 10.

An October 2020 file photo of a pop-up flu shot clinic set up by Ottawa Public Health in the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park.
In October 2020, the Ottawa Public Health Department launched Lansdowne Horticulture. A file photo park of a pop-up flu vaccination clinic set up in a building. Photo by Julie Oliver /Postmedia

New funding announced Wednesday by the Ontario Minister of Health will: The public health sector comes alive with slack as it continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and seeks to bring other programs back to their previous levels. Keith Egli, chairman of Ottawa's health board, said Wednesday. It's raw.

At a time when a staffing crisis has disrupted the healthcare system, there is growing concern that states will introduce more privatization as a solution.

Sylvia Jones, Ontario Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.
Sylvia Jones, Ontario Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. Photo by Nathan Denette /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Minister of Health Sylvia Jones, speaking to delegates at the Ontario Municipal Association warned. The health care situation was not sustainable. She plans to outline the reforms on Thursday.

However, it is unclear what changes this will bring to the public health sector, which continues to bear the burden of the COVID-19 response.

Prior to the pandemic, the Ontario government had planned to consolidate the province's public health department from 35 to 10. Ottawa will become part of a much larger health sector stretching from the Quebec border to Kingston. Few details have been disclosed, including staffing levels and the headquarters location of the new superunit. The plan leaves only her two health units in the North. The government also announced plans to cut the state portion of the health sector budget.

Its planned restructuring was put on hold during the pandemic, and the state has since offered "cost sharing relief" to health units.

On Wednesday, Jones announced that the relaxed cost sharing will be extended through 2023, with an additional $47 million, to provide "the financial stability needed to protect communities across the state.

"This will allow us to continue to provide key services beyond the COVID-19 effort, such as childhood immunizations and other public health testing."

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Egli said that Ottawa's $3 million in funding would help stabilize the system, saying, "We acknowledge that work must be done. You can return it to full steam."

Coun. Keith Egli, who chairs Ottawa’s Board of Health,
counts. Keith Egli, Chair of Ottawa's Health Commission Photo by The City of Ottawa /YouTube

Like Ontario's medical unit had to cut or suspend some programs during the pandemic, it was able to shift staff to COVID-19-related work.

With a new bivalent vaccine hoped for in the fall and more waves of the pandemic likely, Egli acknowledged the pandemic is far from over, funding announced Wednesday. It said the offer was a "very public endorsement" for it.

However, while municipal officials attending the annual conference in Ottawa were relieved to hear the news of the funding, they were also apprehensive about which direction the state was headed in terms of public health.

During a panel discussion earlier this week, Egli said he and other panelists emphasized the importance of keeping public health in the community.

Local government representatives participating in the panel agreed that there is ample room for cooperation between units, but local public health and its connection with the City of Ottawa has made it easier to find space for vaccine clinics. Quarantine centers and other spaces are needed, Egli said.

"It was so much easier to get to know and connect with people at City Hall." has been suspended for Egli said that any major changes in how public health is delivered will require consultation.

According to a spokesperson, Ottawa Public Health's base budget is $66 million, which he shares with the Ministry of Health. The state provides additional funding for some specific programs, such as the Ontario Geriatric Dental Program. His

state COVID-19 response funds support vaccination efforts, outbreak prevention and control, case and contact tracing, reporting, communication, and medical consultations, and will be available in 2022. is expected to double his OPH budget.

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