At the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Board of Health’s first meeting of the year on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, Medical Officer (MOH) of Health Dr. Piotr Oglaza took some time to update Board members on the progress of the research into a voluntary merger of three public health entities: Hastings Prince Edward (HPE); Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL&A); and Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District (LGLD).
Readers will recall that, in November 2023, Oglaza made a presentation on behalf of the Ministry of Health and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health called “STRENGTHENING PUBLIC HEALTH: Outcomes and Objectives to Support Voluntary Mergers.” Oglaza reported that the boards of these three local Public Health agencies had endorsed the development of a study to examine a merger.
According to Oglaza, each of the three agencies approved terms of reference for a board-level merger committee with responsibilities to represent their respective boards at a “Tri-Board Merger Committee” of the partners. This committee would examine the opportunities and challenges of a voluntary merger, and make a recommendation to the respective boards on whether the voluntary merger opportunity should be pursued further. If the merger is pursued, the committee would oversee the development of a business case. Any merger-related decisions would require approval from the board of each Public Health agency.
Oglaza noted that the boards are now moving forward with the merger proposal development stage, facilitated through a joint committee, for the development of a business case. If the proposal is endorsed by each board, the three Health Units will submit the business case to the Ministry by April 2, 2024, or another ministry-negotiated deadline.
The Tri-Board Merger Committee will review the ministry’s response to the submitted business case and make recommendations about how to proceed. In particular, the committee will continue to assess the feasibility of the voluntary merger based on, but not limited to, any new timelines and financial commitments from the Ministry.
Oglaza reported that the Tri-Board Merger Committee met on Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023, and Friday, Jan. 12, 2024. During these meetings, the committee developed a terms of reference document, which was adopted at the meeting held on January 12 and which outlines the role and function of the committee concerning the local Public Health agencies.
The projected budget for the feasibility study and business case development were discussed, Oglaza noted, and the three agencies jointly submitted a one-time funding request to the ministry to pay for the work.
The committee also discussed the distinction between governance and operational aspects in the business case submission. It was agreed that the committee would handle governance elements, while operational considerations would be overseen by the medical officers of health, according to Oglaza.
The importance of communicating with partners, including but not limited to municipalities, was also discussed, and a decision was made to strike a communications sub-committee that includes Sean Kelly from HPE, Toni Surko from LGLD, and Nathan Townend from KFL&A, working with the three medical officers of health. This sub-committee will prepare joint communications and public messaging following committee meetings, to ensure the messages are uniform.
Oglaza said the timelines for the voluntary merger process were discussed, and it currently looks like the new entity would start with a three-year transitional period for full harmonization in early 2025.
Potential names for the new public health entity are part of an ongoing discussion that will resume at the next meeting before recommendations are made to the respective boards.
At the same Board of Health meeting, Oglaza also presented a draft of the 2024 to 2028 Strategic Plan to the Board for its approval.
Oglaza emphasized that the Strategic Plan is not about “what we do” (because the functions of a Public Health unit are mandated by legislation), but more about “how we do our work,” specifically in KFL&A.
As he pointed out, much of the new plan builds on the plan from the last five years. Two of the main updates centre on the agency’s work to implement equity and innovation into the work they do: “two critical components to success identified during the [COVID-19] pandemic.”
Oglaza touted KFL&A Public Health’s “long-standing history of significant contributions to research and innovation in Public Health.” These contributions include “the Public Health Research, Education and Development program (PHRED), the Acute Care Enhanced Surveillance tool (ACES), environmental health-related projects with Health Canada, obtaining research grants and leading and partnering on various regional and provincial research projects, publishing dozens of scientific papers, and a commitment to being a teaching and mentoring site for over 25 years,” the MOH said, noting that “these activities and commitments have directly added to the knowledge base, built capacity, and innovated front-line Public Health.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic challenged our organization profoundly. However, despite these challenges, KFL&A Public Health effectively maintained its position as a Public Health leader in the province. This strategic plan builds on these successes to ensure we remain a leader,” Oglaza stated.
“In the coming years public health will face both challenges and opportunities, and our commitment remains steadfast to continue our leadership role in public health.”
In conclusion, Oglaza said, “I believe that KFL&A Public Health’s 2024 to 2028 Strategic Plan is an opportunity to strengthen our organization and advance the work we do. Working with our partners and our community more broadly, we can promote and protect the health of all.”
The Board approved the plan unanimously, and it will be made publicly available in the near future.