Board of Health hears Merger Committee meeting summary

The KFL&A Public Health offices on Portsmouth Boulevard. Kingstonist file photo.

At its most recent meeting, the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Board of Health heard an update from KFL&A Medical Officer of Health (MOH) Dr. Piotr Oglaza and Lennox & Addington County Councillor Nathan Townend (Deputy Mayor of Loyalist Township) regarding the ongoing merger discussions between three health units.

The three local Public Health Units being considered for merger are ‘coterminous’ in that they “have the same or coincident boundaries.”

At the Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, meeting of the Board of Health, Oglaza noted that the merger committee had met twice since the last Board of Health meeting: on February 1, 2024, at the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit in Brockville; and on February 13, 2024, via Zoom.

The MOH described what he considered “the key points” from February 1, noting, “We continue to work as three boards on the exploration journey.” He said committee members discussed names for the new Public Health entity and the importance of meeting local needs, and that “service delivery is top of mind in the new structure.”

“We had a discussion with representatives from consulting firm Sense and Nous [who described] how they typically support Public Health units exploring mergers,” he also indicated.

Oglaza described how the consultants will conduct a merger feasibility study that will outline resources needed and essential considerations in undertaking a merger, according to the following organizational functions:

  • Governance and Legal
  • Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Programs and Communications
  • Infrastructure

Further, Oglaza said the consultants will submit a report that will include projected merger costs.

However, the consultants will not recommend whether a merger should be undertaken, as this decision is up to each board of health. Should all three of the boards pass a motion committing to the next steps in the merger process, a business case will be developed using the template from the province.

Oglaza said that in this feasibility assessment phase, consultation will occur with board chairs, MOHs, and leadership teams, as well as engagement with the local Indigenous communities and municipalities. That broader consultation will take place after the business case is developed, including consultation with partners and communities.

“So there were a number of items that were discussed on what that support will look like and what… the deliverables from the consult [are],” Oglaza explained.

He pointed out that the province has indicated that, in 2025, it intends to propose a review of the approach to Public Health funding and the proportion of municipal funding.

“So while there is this transition period where the province is supporting the mergers, there’s also the unknown about the planned review of Public Health funding by the province [in the future],” the MOH said.

Oglaza also said that Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, and his team have offered to meet with health units considering mergers. The committee members embraced this offer, and KFL&A Public Health will take the lead on arranging this meeting.

“So there is more to come,” Oglaza said.

“We also did some brainstorming and discussions about elements of the business case that are required for submission on April 2, including things like the name of the future entity and the process through which that might be developed.”

Also, at that meeting on February 1, Townend circulated an updated governance structure for review by the committee. Members agreed in principle to a proposed structure, with further exploration taking place with stakeholders. An update will be provided at the next meeting. 

Oglaza next reported that at its meeting on February 13, the Merger Committee discussed the importance of communication with partners, specifically the involved municipalities. He indicated that a first draft of a communications plan was introduced, discussed, and noted, but it was agreed that a more in-depth plan is required. Through discussion, it was decided that the firm Redbrick Communications would be contacted as soon as possible for engagement of in-depth communications messaging, planning and strategizing.

“The tri-board committee has a subcommittee dedicated to communications…. Redbrick has been seconded to help with that process… So our municipal partners can expect something in the near future,” Townend explained.

“Part of the challenge, of course, is that the questions that we anticipate, we don’t have immediate answers to. And there are also lots of other changes to Public Health that the government is proposing, the consequences of which are unknown.”

“The reality is we have until April 2nd,” Board of Health chair Wes Garrod said.

“So at our board meeting at the end of March, we have to make a decision on the merger. And there’s a lot of things to happen this month in terms of specifics and co-operation and sorting out differences… The bottom line is this: we have to have that decision by our meeting in March.”

Board member David Pattenden asked if Dr. Kieran Moore supported the merger. Oglaza answered, “It certainly has been supported by the province; they continue these merger discussions.”

“And that’s evidence enough that he supports it, because it wouldn’t be happening if he didn’t,” Pattenden responded.

Garrod noted that Moore would be coming to the next meeting, “So we will be able to ask him questions directly regarding it. Certainly he’s the one who supported voluntary mergers, which is not as much of a cost savings measure as it was in the past. So we’ll see where things go… We’re hopeful, but it has to meet our criteria locally for us to move forward [with any merger].”

The next Merger Committee meeting will take place Monday, Mar. 4, 2024 and will be held at Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit.

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