The LGL health unit is looking to merge with two other boards. Why is this happening and what would it look like?

Dr. Linna Li is medical officer of health for the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit – Photo via LGL health unit website

Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit’s Medical Officer of Health (MOH) Dr. Linna Li was at Brockville council’s meeting on Wednesday, March 12, and gave a presentation outlining why the health unit is pursuing a voluntary merger with two other area boards (Kingston, Frontenac Lennox and Addington and Hastings Prince Edward), and what this would mean for the delivery of services locally.

Li opened the presentation with an overview of the provincial public health strategy.

“The province did start in August of 2023 with the announcement of an initiative called ‘Strengthening Public Health.’ This is an initiative that has three prongs, of which one prong is indeed that voluntary merger.”

Li announced that voluntary mergers throughout the province are one of the province’s four main goals moving into the future. 

The four provincial public health strategy goals are: 

  • Voluntary mergers 
  • Health units that serve populations of 500,000 people 
  • Critical mass for resources – Maintain front-line jobs and services 
  • Cost-savings stay in local public health

Li reaffirmed that this merger would be a voluntary process, saying the ideal situation the province envisions for these mergers are health units serving populations above 500,000.

“To give a sense of scale, our health unit which serves the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark counties has a population of about 190,000 people,” Li explained.

She then moved onto the topic of the maintenance of frontline workers and services, explaining “Certainly, in the communications from the province and in our own communications and exploration about potential mergers, one of the key components has been a maintenance of frontline services, especially local and rural services.” 

She said they’re taking a proactive and positive approach to the idea of merging.

“Before the pandemic started, the province had actually come out with a plan to consolidate public health units and there were 35 units at that time. The plan was a 10 health unit geography where all of South Eastern Ontario would all be one large health unit, which would include Ottawa and the surrounding area and would hopefully reach Peterborough.”

This plan received almost immediate pushback and was quickly shelved. 

Li clarified that this “happened before the pandemic and of course during the pandemic, that was not a time to change local public health. After the pandemic, there’s been a lot more understanding of the needs of public health and the province has come back with an alternative.”

The province now says they won’t enforce it, and it won’t be 10 units, but they should consider voluntary mergers. should look at voluntary mergers instead.

The four principles for the merger noted in Li’s presentation were:

  • Services sustainable over the long term 
  • Responsive to local needs 
  • Put people first – staff, residents, and communities 
  • Best practices and continuous improvement

Li shared that the two health units they’ve continually been meeting with and collaborating with on a merger plan with are Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health and Hastings Prince Edward Public Health. 

“All together, these three units get us up to a population of 550,000, and it’s also a set of health units with which we have much in common,” explained Li. 

When asked for questions or comments, Councillor Severson asked “ If you amalgamate with Kingston and Belleville, would our local public health office here close? Where would the centre be?”

In response, Li explained, that they may be able to sub-specialize staff in a way that adds greater value, even if they don’t change staffing levels.

“I don’t want to over promise but we could have, due to greater specialization, the ability to offer new services that we might not have offered before.”

She explained that health units often provide services that are fundamentally local, so in order to provide those services they need to go into homes or businesses to do inspections.

“To make travel realistic for people, we need offices that are spread out among our communities. There’s no intention to close offices or services and expect people to travel,” confirmed Li. 

In terms of timeline, the medical officer of health and her team are now in the feasibility study stage of their strategic plan. Li explained that decisions will need to be made by the board of health directors by the end of March, with a business plan submission deadline set for April 2. The implementation of this voluntary merger is currently expected to be a three-year process. 

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