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Health unit out of the woods

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The Northwestern Health Unit said the threat of closure has passed after monthly payments from area municipalities continue to flow in for 1998.

For April, only six of the 22 municipalities have refused to pay—all in the Kenora District.

And Dr. Pete Sarsfield, chief medical officer of health, said he’s hoping the health unit will be able to work out the payment rather than take those municipalities to court for failing to pay their bills.

“We haven’t unleashed the legal dogs on it,” he said yesterday. “We’re going to try and negotiate it out.”

Part of the reason the health unit is backing off is because of the $1-million line of credit it obtained from the bank, which is to be reassessed in July.

Dr. Sarsfield noted even if all 22 municipalities stopped paying, the health unit still would be able to survive for three months. But he also added it is the municipalities ultimately that are footing the bill for the line of credit.

“So the heat is off considerably,“ he remarked, adding it was an entirely different situation than the one in January when the health unit was worried it wouldn’t be able to meet its payroll.

He also said talk of a programmatic audit had petered off, at least for the time being, adding the health unit now can focus on the new mandatory programs outlined for public health.

In fact, Dr. Sarsfield attributed much of the tension earlier this year between the health unit and area municipalities to the different figures it gave them versus the ones they received from the province.

“The municipalities got some very different figures from the ones that we gave them,” he noted, adding he didn’t blame them for questioning that.

Beginning Jan. 1, municipalities were charged a $63.46 per capita levy for public health. Before that, they paid $10.53 per capita—or roughly 20 percent of the health unit’s annual budget.

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