Public health units have been, and continue to be, on the frontlines of Ontario’s COVID-19 pandemic response. Staff has been working hard over the last 17 months to keep us all safe in the face of immense pressures in the health care sector at large. They have been able to pivot quickly and effectively as new COVID science was continually emerging to put the most appropriate local public health measures in place.
These are municipally co-funded operations governed by their own boards of directors in autonomous boards or are within municipalities. They have been providing essential services, such as: providing vaccine clinics, contact tracing, COVID testing, supporting the long-term care sector, and advising and training for safe child care reopenings, among many other responsibilities.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, AMO provided written submissions to the provincial government’s Public Health and Emergency Health Services Modernization consultations. The emergency situation put a pause on the consultation in March 2020. AMO is asking for these consultations to resume with a COVID lens, once the COVID waves have subsided. The pandemic exposed both strengths and areas of improvement both locally and provincially. This learning needs to be considered in any future modernization and restructuring of public health.
As of 2020, public health funding is split 70% provincial and 30% municipal. The key difference between this and the former funding split of 75/25, is that the new cost-sharing covers everything. Previously there was 100% provincial funding for some programs such as oral health, with cost-sharing only for mandatory Ontario Public Health Standards’ programs.
The province introduced funding in 2020 to mitigate the impact of the funding changes on municipalities. The current one-time mitigation funding is to end December 2021. Currently, municipal and public health leaders are seeking to have it extended into 2022. With the pandemic ongoing, now is not the time to reduce funding.
Municipal governments cannot be expected to make up for reductions in provincial funding, nor can they bear the costs of provincial restructuring. As Ontario recovers from the COVID-19 emergency, it has become clear that sustained, reliable funding to public health is more important now than ever.
There are 34 public health units that provide population health services to Ontarians across the province. Working with municipal governments, public health units focus on the overall health and well-being of a community by preventing disease and making interventions aimed at keeping people healthy and outside of the health care system. Municipal governments play a major role in the delivery of public health services, both as an employer (when in a municipality) and funding partner.