The Board of Health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) is asking the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Christine Elliott, to keep the full territory of the health unit, Simcoe County and the District of Muskoka, whole when it joins with York Region to form a new public health entity April 1, 2020. The recommendation passed at the Board of Health meeting yesterday.

“We believe that the division of our Muskoka and Simcoe operations will disrupt and undermine the delivery of public health programs to Muskoka,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, SMDHU’s medical officer of health. “The proposed geographic area that would include Muskoka is vast– more than 400,000 square kilometres – and providing public health services to such a large and low-density area will be extremely challenging.”

Under the proposed boundary changes for SMDHU, the Simcoe County portion of the health unit will join with York Region as a new regional public health entity, while Muskoka will join a new regional entity that will also serve Sudbury, North Bay, Parry Sound, Algoma, Porcupine, Timiskaming and part of Renfrew, an area that extends to James Bay.

“A merger between SMDHU and York Region will be complex,” said Anita Dubeau, Chair of the Board of Health. “However, splitting the operations between Simcoe and Muskoka at the same time as mergers both with York and six other health units to the north will be overwhelming in its complexity.”

The province announced in its April budget that it intended to establish 10 public health entities with 10 new independent boards of health by 2020-2021. There are currently 35 provincial health units that will have their borders redrawn. At the same time, the province announced changes to the cost-shared model for public health funding, which will increase the municipal portion of health unit budgets.

The health unit says the province had indicated that it is willing to consider feedback on the boundary changes.