Public health unit merger talks draws concerns over staffing, services

KFL&A Public Health is conducting a study that would see the organization merge with Hastings Prince Edward and Leeds Grenville Lanark public health units. John Lawless/Global News

Merger talks are underway involving the three public health units currently serving Southeastern Ontario.

From Quinte to Brockville, the three units cover a huge area.

The Ford government is offering incentive packages for public health units to merge with their neighbours — but the move isn’t without its critics.

“Honestly, the public deserves better,” says Angela Preocanin, first vice-president of the Ontario Nurses Association.

Concerns about public health mergers are mounting, as KFL&A Public Health is conducting a feasibility study on merging its staff and services with Hastings Prince Edward and Leeds Grenville Lanark.

These merger talks have raised some eyebrows at other organizations, like the ONA, who believe there could be some serious repercussions among health unit staff.

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“These mergers are going to cut services and cut the staff,” says Preocanin.

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“Because if you have a program, like harm reduction, and you have three units that are going to merge into one, why would you need all that staff?”

But officials at the health unit say this won’t be the case.

The province is offering one-time funding, resources and support to local public health units that decide to voluntarily merge — which KFL&A says will help keep staff and services levels the same.

“Why we are considering the mergers now is that they said they would provide all the necessary funding and resources to support the merger program,” says Wess Garrod, chair of the KFL&A Board of Health.

“It would not be a reduction in frontline services. It would not be a reduction of staff.”

But the doubt is still there.

CUPE, one of the unions that represents the workers at the health unit, is skeptical when they are told that no job losses will occur.

In a rural area like Leeds Grenville Lanark, they’re concerned that services there could fall through the cracks if a merger goes through.

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“With the increase of centralization of services that comes with such mergers, rural communities such as mine, Leeds Grenville Lanark, they typically suffer by weaker service coverage,” says CUPE Local 1559 president Merima Kostecki.

At the end of the feasibility study, each of the three boards will decide independently whether to merge.

Those decisions will likely come early next year, because if the units do wish to merge, they have to notify the province by March 2024.

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