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Health unit still sees shortfall after raising costs per capita

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The Northwestern Health Unit is still short of funds despite passing its budget Friday that called for a $1.37 per capita increase from area municipalities.

The hike raises the cost per capita to $33 from $31.73 in 1999, which translates to $10,556 for Fort Frances—and about $70,000 across the Kenora/Rainy River districts.

Despite the increase, along with a $150,000 dip into the health unit’s emergency reserve fund, board members meeting in Kenora decided they still didn’t have enough money to hire nine more employees to keep up with provincially-mandatory programs.

“What we would need is an additional nine people amounting to $600,000 in order to maintain our programs up to the spirit of mandatory programs—to be doing something in all the programs,” said Dr. Pete Sarsfield, medical officer of health and chief executive officer of the Northwestern Health Unit.

“[But] the board and municipalities feel that we can’t afford that right now,” he noted.

Instead, the health unit will hire the equivalent of 3.1 employees. The new staff will focus on prevention programs rather than treatment ones.

“We are trying to get a spread so that they are located throughout the district,” said Wayne Hanchard, Administration team leader for the health unit.

“The recent Health Status Report indicates that there is a high degree of preventable illness and injury,” he noted.

Meanwhile, there are signs of frustration as the health unit struggles to keep up with provincial downloading.

“They say, ‘This is a huge need, we want you to cover it but we’re not going to help,’” charged Dr. Sarsfield.

“The levies are already as high as they can get,” he stressed. “I want to compliment the municipalities and the board for meeting the challenge.

“We are very close to getting blood out of a stone,” he warned.

Most of this year’s budget increase is being supplemented by the $150,000 the board decided to take from its reserve fund. The fund, which totals about $450,000, usually is kept for large-scale emergencies within the districts.

“That leaves us enough that we can respond to emergencies, flooding, ice storms. When you start dipping into reserves, you can only do that for so long,” he said.

Dr. Sarsfield and delegates from other district health units across the province are meeting this week with members of the provincial government to discuss the downloading of health care.

Dr. Sarsfield said he has his fingers crossed the province will reconsider.

“None of the 37 health units [in Ontario] are meeting the mandatory programs—none, zero, zip,” he said.

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