City Council approves healthcare funding despite frustration with province

At the end of a combined nearly 10-hour meeting that took place over two evenings, Kingston City Council managed to approve several large healthcare expenditures, including funding for the Integrated Care Hub (ICH), recruitment of family doctors to Kingston, University Hospitals Kingston Foundation (UHKF) for the Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) expansion and renewal of Kingston General Hospital (KGH) fundraising campaign.

The virtual council meeting spanned two evenings and went on late into the evening both nights. Kingston City Hall alight at night. Photo by Iris van Loon.

The healthcare funding proposed was separated into three main clauses.  

The first — that up to $250,000 per year for three years for a total of up to $750,000 be allocated for the Integrated Care Hub — was successfully amended to include stipulations offered by Councillor Rob Hutchison. 

He requested that City Staff have a third party review conducted to assess whether the Integrated Care Hub (ICH) is properly and effectively fulfilling its mandate; and that the review should also assess the collateral impacts of the ICH operation on the neighbourhood, local residents and businesses, and the City in terms of costs, disruption and security as related to, but not limited to, police, fire, first responders, garbage and waste clean-up, and Belle Park use and condition.  

Lastly, Hutchison, who is the Councillor for the King’s Town district where the ICH is located, requested that Staff report back making recommendations on how the situation may be ameliorated, including the possibility of moving the location of the ICH, by the last Council meeting in Feb. 2022.

The second clause up for debate was the allocation of  $250,000 per year for eight years for a total of $2.0 million for family physicians recruitment.

The third and last clause proposed $800,000 per year for three years, $1.05M for five years and $1.3M for two years for a total of $10,250,000 over ten years to the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation (UHKF) for the Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) expansion and renewal of Kingston General Hospital (KGH) fundraising campaign.

A wooden massing of the proposed redevelopment of KHSC’s KGH site, which depends on 10 per cent funding being provided by the City of Kingston. Photo via Infrastructure Ontario.

Much of the healthcare debate was summed up eloquently in comments made by Councillor Bridget Doherty prior to the vote.

“We had, in 2020, 2,200 people died of overdoses in Ontario. The mayor mentioned earlier that we’re the only community where deaths over overdose deaths were reduced,” she said, “ICH is not perfect, for sure. And I really appreciate the amendment Councillor Hutchinson put forward in regard to getting more information. But we can’t close this, we just heard from Staff that we don’t have the services to implement, and more people will die on the streets. So, I really urge every councillor to support clause number one.”

Primarily she pointed out, “We’re all frustrated because all three of these items are actually the responsibility of the province. Mental health and addictions [services] are provincial responsibilities. And we’re being asked to fund that.”

However, she pointed out, “We heard the structural challenges with recruiting doctors, again, that’s a provincial responsibility. And when it comes to supporting the hospital expansion, we heard yesterday in the discussion that if we don’t support them with our 10 per cent, then they will not receive them 90 per cent of the funding for that project, [and it] will not go ahead.”

“So, for all these reasons,” she urged, “even though we’re frustrated — these are not our responsibilities and these are not the responsibilities of the municipal taxpayer — we have some serious decisions to make. And these decisions, if we don’t support them, will have serious consequences. So, whether we like it or not, I will actively support all of them, because that’s the right thing to do.”

The funding for all three initiatives was approved by a vote of 11 to 1, with only Councillor Simon Chapelle opposed.

Kingstonist poll results on funding options for the KGH redevelopment project

The decision of City Council on the third clause did not align that of the residents that participated in the Kingstonist poll regarding the options for providing funding for the KGH redevelopment project. Of the 82 participants, the largest group (38 per cent) voted in favour of another option listed by City Staff in the report (not recommended): The removal of the $1.3M earmarked for healthcare initiatives (all three of the above clauses) from the budget, and a reduction of the tax rate by 0.55 per cent in 2022 accordingly. While City Staff did not recommend a tax increase to increase funding for the redevelopment project, three of the four other options listed in the report referred to tax rates being increased or decreased. A total of 20 per cent of poll participants selected the recommended option that Council decided on, making it the third most-popular of the five options outlined in the report among readers (the addition of a one-time additional 0.6 per cent tax increase in 2022 to finance the remainder of UHKF request ($14,750,000) for a total contribution = $25 million over 10 years was the second most-popular option, with 24 per cent of the poll votes).

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