Peterborough, HKPR District public health units agree to voluntary merger

Click to play video: 'Peterborough Public Health and Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit vote in favour of merging'
Peterborough Public Health and Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit vote in favour of merging
Peterborough Public Health and the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit have agreed to merge. Tricia Mason has the latest – Feb 28, 2024

Two public health units serving Peterborough and the surrounding area in central Ontario have agreed to a voluntary merger, officials announced on Wednesday.

The boards of health for Peterborough Public Health and the Haliburton, Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) said they have agreed to a voluntary merger and are now seeking provincial approval and funding for the process.

Peterborough Public Health serves Peterborough, Peterborough County, Curve Lake First Nation and Hiawatha First Nation. The neighbouring HKPR serves the City of Kawartha Lakes, Northumberland County and Haliburton County.

The merger plan comes following the August 2023 offer by Ontario’s Ministry of Health to provide one-time transition funding and three-year merger support for public health units that combined resources by Jan. 1, 2025. The province’s goal is to clarify public health roles and reduce overlap.

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Both health units said they began reviews of a possible merger in the fall of 2023. The review process included submissions by a joint board merger exploration working group as well as from an external consulting firm.

Both boards of health said the process highlighted the health units’ extensive history of collaboration with similar geographic, demographic, health status and population characteristics.

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During its Feb. 15 meeting, the HKPR board of health decided to proceed with a proposal to voluntarily merge with Peterborough Public Health.

“We have been diligent in the timeframe provided to review and consider all possible outcomes and impacts of a voluntary merger,” said David Marshall,  chairperson of HKPR’s board of health,

“Ultimately, we agreed that by merging with Peterborough Public Health we can strengthen our capacity to deliver exceptional public health programs and services and to better respond to the unique needs of our small urban and rural communities.”

Subsequently, at its Feb. 21 meeting, Peterborough Public Health’s board of health decided to proceed with the merger proposal, believing the merger can help reduce health iniquities and address the most pressing public health issues.

The merger will impact more than 300 public health employees between the two organizations.

“Over the past several months, we have carefully examined how a merger can strengthen the services that we provide to our communities,” said Joy Lachica, PPH board of health chairperson and Peterborough city councillor. “This process revealed that joining together offers us the best pathway possible to protect and promote public health and keep our residents healthy. We are thrilled to start this journey together.”

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During a media conference on Wednesday, both health units’ medical officers of health praised the potential merger.

“This is a really unique and special opportunity to rethink and improve how public health services are delivered throughout both entire geographies of the health units,” said Dr. Thomas Piggott with Peterborough Public Health.

Added Dr. Natalie Bocking, MOH of HKPR:  “What this affords us now is to bring our strengths forward from each of our organizations in the environment that we finds ourselves in now.”

Piggott noted a major factor in reaching a merger decision with financial funding. Without a merger, each health unit would only receive a one per cent increase. Piggott says that simply would not be enough to maintain services.

“A reevaluation of budget, adequacy of budget and fairness between health units has not been done in many decades,” he said. “And they (government) have indicated that will be a part of the process.”

The health units will submit a joint voluntary merger application to the province by April 2 for review and approval by the Ministry of Health.

“Mergers of public health units require provincial legislative change, and as such this will not be definitive until the province has approved this and commits adequate funding for its success later in the year,” the boards jointly stated. “Both PPH and HKPR will continue to operate independently during the provincial review period.”

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— more to come

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