KFL&A Board of Health votes in favour of voluntary merger

KFL&A Board of Health. Back row, left to right: Councillor Conny Glenn, City of Kingston; David Pattenden, community member; Councillor Nathan Townend, L&A County; Christopher Seeley, community member; Councillor Brandon Tozzo, City of Kingston; Councillor Judy Greenwood-Speers County of Frontenac. Front row, left to right: Councillor Jeff McLaren (vice-chair), City of Kingston; Wes Garrod (chair); Medical Officer of Health Dr. Piotr Oglaza. Photo courtesy of KFL&A Public Health.

After months of discussions with coterminous partners, the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Board of Health voted in favour of a merger with Hastings Prince Edward Public Health, and Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit to create the South East Health Unit. 

As previously reported, the idea of a merger was conceived in response to the Ontario Ministry of Health’s August 2023 announcement of its intention to strengthen the public health sector. At that time the ministry offered one-time funding, resources, and support to local public health agencies that decided to merge voluntarily, with the intent that the mergers take effect January 1, 2025. 

At the KFL&A Board of Health (BOH) meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Piotr Oglaza made a presentation prepared by the Ontario Ministry of Health called Strengthening Public Health: Outcomes and Objectives to Support Voluntary Mergers. At that meeting, the Board of Health voted to endorse, in principle, further investigation of the feasibility of a potential voluntary merger between the three neighbouring public health organizations.

Consulting firm Sense and Nous was hired to prepare a feasibility study and a business case for a merger. 

At the board’s Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2024 meeting, Oglaza presented the two studies.

The feasibility study looks at the pros and cons of the three health agencies merging, including the ability to deliver Public Health programs and services to all communities within the new proposed catchment area. 

The business case summarizes the rationales and key proposals to be considered by the ministry, including the name of the proposed new entity, governance model, geographic boundaries, opportunities to strengthen Public Health, and support needed to merge.  

Board members expressed little hesitation before agreeing to the merger. Kingston City Councillor Conny Glenn, who is one of two City Council representatives on the board, thanked the members of the merger exploration committee from KFL&A and the other health agencies, saying, “The business case and the feasibility study have convinced me that we’re moving on a really solid pathway forward.”

An image from Dr. Piotr Oglaza’s presentation in November 2023 depicts Public Health units in the province with a population under 500.000 in pink. Highlighted are the proposed merger partners for KFL&A.

She pointed out that early on in their discussions, it came up that, “the current Health Units run north-south, and that this brings us east-west… Accessibility is a huge piece of [equity, and] along with increased capacity, with having a larger team to service the public, to me this all makes perfect sense.”

“What we’re going to gain from this is the ability to provide absolutely critical services moving forward: we’ve seen that over the last few years. And now, to be able to respond to things… that are sub-emergency but still important for people’s overall health?” Glenn asked rhetorically, then going on, “Absolutely. This is a beautiful way forward, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s unprecedented to get this much provincial support.”

Lennox & Addington County Councillor Nathan Townend, a member of the merger committee, shared some of the key points that helped him shape his positive perspective on the merger for the record.

“I do believe it’s in the best interest of our city and two counties,” he shared. “I have been able to gain confidence that KFL&A will be better served in a merged entity that can prove stronger based on increased capacity.”

“Although voluntary,” he pointed out, “there is a reason to assume… the [provincial] government may have forced us to merge — and as previously in this government’s mandate, that kind of proposal may not be in the best interest of our Health Unit. So being proactive is, I believe, in our best interest to ensure that, if a merger is inevitable, it happens on our terms, in our best interest, which is best determined by us.”

“This merger has the potential to make us a flagship for the provincial government in terms of what it desires to see from this process. And our motivation in providing that example is to ensure the government will do all within its power to help us succeed, and I genuinely believe that to be the case,” Townend said.

He also said he believes the merger will not diminish frontline services: “That’s always been the elephant in the room in the public conversation, and that skepticism is reasonable, and healthy, and responsible. There hasn’t been an unequivocal promise from the government that this process would not cut frontline services or be a burden to municipal levies. And so I think it’s fair to say that if either of those things were not the case, our respective boards would probably not have entertained this process… I sincerely hope that we continue the positive momentum.”

According to a release by KFL&A Public Health, after considering the same presentations, the Hastings Prince Edward Board of Health also voted on March 27 to seek a merger, while the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark Board of Health will conduct its own vote at its afternoon meeting on Thursday, March 28. If all three boards approve moving forward with a voluntary merger, they will submit a proposal to the Ministry of Health by Tuesday, Apr. 2, 2024.

Mergers of Public Health Units require provincial legislative change. A merger will only occur if the province approves the merger proposal and commits to adequate funding for its success. Until such approval, the Health Units will continue to operate independently.

Editor’s note: Although the press release from KFL&A Public Health linked to above is dated Thursday, Mar. 28, 2024, it was actually issued on Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2024, the same day the KFL&A Board of Health meeting took place.

One thought on “KFL&A Board of Health votes in favour of voluntary merger

  • “There hasn’t been an unequivocal promise … that this process would not cut frontline services or be a burden to municipal levies.” Surely that means there could be cuts, and it might affect municipal levies? Or maybe there are just too many negatives in his rather convoluted sentence which mask the true meaning?

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