Council opposes merger of Sault and Sudbury Health Units

APH

A proposed merger of the Algoma Public Health (APH) with Public Health Sudbury and District (PHSD) was given a resounding thumbs down by Sault Ste. Marie City Council last night.

The APH passed a resolution in November to conduct a feasibility study into the pros and cons of merging the two boards. The two units jointly followed up with a Jan. 19 letter to numerous stakeholders, including the City, seeking feedback on the merger concept.

Ward 5 Councillor Matthew Scott, who has served on the APH board, said he jumped at tabling the motion for multiple reasons. Scott said a possible merger was raised four years ago but Covid took it off the table as health authorities squarely focused on the pandemic. 

Scott said the concept reflects the province’s intention to offload costs to municipalities, and logistically, the merged coverage area put under just one umbrella won’t work. He said he was against a merger then and remains opposed now. 

“Some things I think we have to appreciate,” said Scott, “is the distance between the Sault and Sudbury. We have quite a bit of distance which means our problems are not going to necessarily going to be shared.”

Scott said while he did not have exact figures in front of him, he clearly recalls smoking rates, disease rates, sexually transmitted infection rates were different when comparing the data of the two units.

“I believe that merging would be detrimental to the public health across both communities especially given the fact that geographically, they’re so large and we all have diverse problems that have to be focused on.”   

Ward 5 Coun. Corey Gardi seconded the motion. Gardi agreed with Scott’s comments adding a merger would result in diminished health care in Algoma. 

“Sault Ste. Marie deserves its own public health authority,” said Gardi.

Ward 1 Coun. Sandra Hollingsworth, a registered nurse, said she was “shocked” a merger would be proposed at a time when the Sault is struck by a severe shortage of doctors. Various programs offered by APH for new mothers, such as breast-feeding and immunization would likely suffer.

“Up in this area, we do have different, unique needs,” said Hollingsworth, “and it’s not just Sault Ste. Marie, it’s Algoma. We are concerned about our health care system, and now, with this, if this merger actually happens, it’s just going to put another nail into a cracking health care system. As a nurse, I’m hoping that we all support the idea that this merger does not happen and that we continue to have a voice in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma.”

Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker says the two boards are looking at a merger voluntarily now but it was not a voluntary exploration in 2019, when the province looked at a forced merger of northern public health units.

“This council opposed it then,” said Shoemaker.

Shoemaker says the APH’s Covid response illustrated the effectiveness of localized decision-making.

“We saw at the beginning of the pandemic, at least, much lower numbers in terms of Covid rates, Covid infections and the spread of it because of decisions, I think, that our public health unit made and that were clearly communicated by the leadership of this community, (then-) Mayor Provenzano and the public health unit at the time,” said Shoemaker.

“I think that would be lost if we merged with Sudbury. The one-size-fits-all approach would inevitably be applied across the district. I don’t think that’s in the best interest of our community.”

The motion to oppose the merger carried unanimously.

Author

  • Ron Jokelainen

    Ron has returned to writing and reporting after 27 years with Ontario Lottery & Gaming. He began as a staff writer with OLG in 1994 before moving to Sports Marketing in 1997. He retired as a Senior sports analyst in 2021. Prior to OLG, Ron worked in radio and print journalism in the Sault and Simcoe. Folks may remember Ron "Williams" with CFYN-CHAS in the early 90s A graduate of Windsor's St. Clair College Journalism program, Ron lists drumming, gardening and walking among his favourite hobbies.

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