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Kenora district doesn’t vote on health unit audit

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The Rainy River District Municipal Association may have to wait before it sees an independent audit on the Northwestern Health Unit because the Kenora District Municipal Association failed to pass a similar resolution at its annual meeting in Dryden.

“That didn’t even come to the floor,” Dryden Mayor Roger Valley, incoming president of the KDMA, said yesterday.

In fact, Mayor Valley said the KDMA didn’t know anything about the call for an audit. It wasn’t until Dr. Pete Sarsfield, CEO and medical officer of health for the health unit, brought the issue up that they found out about it.

Instead, the KDMA is waiting until after tonight’s meeting of the health unit board. And when its executive meets Monday morning to discuss its District Social Services Administration Board, Mayor Valley said he wants to take 20 minutes to discuss a unified, joint plan among all its members.

After that, Mayor Valley said he wanted to get in touch with Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, who is the president of the RRDMA, to let him know their plans.

But that puts the RRDMA call for an independent audit in limbo. Mayor Witherspoon said Monday they were now waiting to see what the KDMA wanted to do about it.

“Once we get their mandate, we’ll be working to write up the terms of reference between us, and going out and seeking someone qualified to do that,” he said, noting the audit would take a complete look at the health unit’s programs, office locations, and services.

“The whole gamut,” he stressed.

But Dr. Sarsfield has warned that only the Ministry of Health could do an assessment of the health unit’s services. If the municipalities wanted the audit, the ministry would have to assign someone to do it and then bill them.

Based on the the health unit’s reorganization assessment, Dr. Sarsfield said that bill would come in between $200,000-$400,000. The health unit has 13 offices which cover 22 communities and the unincorporated areas.

Although Mayor Witherspoon didn’t know how much an audit would cost, he was skeptical it would come in that high.

“It’s well within our means and we’re not rich municipal associations,” he said.

“The audit, I think, would take quite a while,” added Mayor Valley, while stressing the municipalities needed some answers quickly.

But Dr. Sarsfield welcomed the audit, feeling it would show the health unit was underfunded and understaffed—especially with the new mandated programs released by the ministry last week.

He noted on an initial read, the mandated programs would mean more programs and more services required by the health unit. Much of that, he added, would depend on how strictly it would be enforced.

Meanwhile, payment for February’s bills are trickling in. But Dr. Sarsfield warned if municipalities were going to break the law and refuse to pay, they would have to be willing to face the consequences.

“People still don’t get it that we’re operating on a month-by-month basis,” he stressed.

But whether municipalities continue to pay their monthly bills remains to be seen. At its regular meeting Monday night, Fort Frances town council approved the $44,000 payment for February.

“People were very upset. We said we want more say,” Mayor Valley of the tone at last week’s KDMA annual meeting.

He also noted many were questioning if the board—made up of seven municipally-appointed reps and one appointed by the province—or the CEO was calling the shots when it came to health unit decisions.

While he admitted he didn’t get board approval before taking legal action when municipalities weren’t paying their bills, Dr. Sarsfield noted he wore two hats—one as CEO and one as medical officer of health reporting to the ministry.

“My Ministry of Health hat does not report to the board," he explained, stressing he has certain responsibilities if he feels the health of the public is at risk. ”[And] I viewed getting a lawyer as part of what we had to do to protect public health.

“How I do the medical aspect of my job is not open to the scrutiny or veto of the board,” he added.

While the board can remove him as CEO, Dr. Sarsfield said they couldn’t remove him as the medical officer of health.

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