Toronto Public Health officials say the Ontario government will be making a major cut to the agency’s annual funding, sparking serious concerns about the agency’s ability to deliver a wide variety of services.
Coun. Joe Cressy, who also serves as chair of Toronto’s Board of Health, and Mayor John Tory said it would mean $1 billion less in funding over a 10-year period.
According to Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa, City of Toronto staff were told on Thursday by provincial officials that the Ontario government would be cutting its share of public health funding by 25 per cent (down to 50 per cent from 75 per cent).
In its 2019 City of Toronto budget submission, public health staff said the department had a gross budget of $255 million — offset by $190.8 million from a variety of revenue sources.
Toronto Public Health is responsible for a wide variety of services, including school immunization programs, protection from infectious diseases, inspecting restaurants, pools and beaches as well as ensuring safe drinking water.
“Public health is an investment in our people and our communities … investments in public health keep our city and residents safe, healthy and strong,” de Villa wrote in a statement to Global News Thursday afternoon.
“This change will have significant negative impacts on the health of Toronto residents and we are extremely disappointed to hear this news.”
Cressy slammed the reduction in funding after learning about the news on Thursday, calling the announcement “callous,” “cruel” and “short-sighted.”
“Evidence has shown that the diseases we prevent today represent the health-care costs we save tomorrow,” he wrote in a statement.
“I say this without an ounce of exaggeration — because of today’s announced cuts, people will die.”
Tory said he viewed the announcement as a “targeted attack on the health of our entire city, in particular, the health of Toronto’s most vulnerable people.
“The Toronto Public Health budget has historically been funded by the province for a reason: these are programs which protect people’s health and many programs which keep people out of hospitals and, ultimately, saves healthcare costs,” he said.
“It is inconceivable why the Ontario government would want to single out Toronto, Ontario’s capital and economic engine, for harsher treatment when we know a healthy city is a prosperous city.”
As part of the 2019 budget, the Ontario government said it would establish 10 regional public health entities and 10 new regional boards of health. The document noted there are 35 public health units across the province. Officials said the current public health unit model doesn’t provide consistent delivery of services. The document said the changes would mean more efficiencies and better “alignment” with Ontario’s health-care system.
When asked for comment about the $1-billion cut figure quoted by Tory and Cressy, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott’s press secretary didn’t directly confirm it and accused Cressy of “misrepresenting the facts” as part of “an effort to fear monger and sow confusion.” Hayley Chazan said the government is “strengthening the role of municipalities” in delivering public health services.
“We are working directly with our municipal partners as we slowly shift the cost-sharing funding model over the next three years to reflect municipalities’ stronger role, including an increased role on the autonomous boards of health that will govern the new system and ensuring that municipalities have a real voice in better matching public health investments with local community needs,” she wrote in a statement to Global News.
“We have every expectation that all public health units across Ontario will continue to be properly funded, including Toronto.”