Region of Waterloo Public Health is going to be amalgamated with three other units to form the largest single public health unit in the province.
Chuck Ferguson, spokesperson for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health said that the medical officers of health were briefed on Friday of the changes, which were shared with staff Monday.
"Staff have learned today that there will be a new larger health unit made up of the Region of Waterloo, Region of Peel, Halton Region and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health," Ferguson told GuelphToday.
"That would make it the largest public health unit in the province and one of the fastest growing, with its proximity to Toronto."
Ferguson said it's too early to know any specifics of the amalgamation and how it might affect services or staffing.
And with those unknowns, comes fear about what lies ahead.
"My fear is that there will be less accountability, less responsiveness, and less responsibility for local decisions, local priorities," says Regional Chair Karen Redman, "We will now be competing with other groups in Halton, Peel and Guelph."
"I think local decision-making has proven to serve people of Waterloo Region really well in the past, and I worry that at the end of the day, we'll simply get a tax bill and be asked to pay for services that we don't have enough control over deciding what those are."
As of April 1, 2020, 35 health units will merge into 10 regional bodies. In the meantime, the province says they will provide transitional funding.
But Redman says they don't know what that money is specifically for, but points out the province identified a potential for $200 million dollars in savings in their latest budget by making this move.
"It'll be interesting to see how that translates, and what that looks like," she says.
Redman says there needs to be more information and clarity on the whole thing.
"I think it's only appropriate to flag some of those concerns, so that we can consult with the province and mitigate any of the unintended consequences that may result from such a major change," she adds.
Meantime, Ontario Green Party Leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner says the move raises concerns on whether Mississauga and Brampton are appropriate partners for Guelph, Wellington and Waterloo.
"Public health needs in the Guelph region are different than those in the GTA," he states in a release, adding he's worried the government is "plowing ahead with a centralization plan without consideration for local decision making or how these changes affect people's health in our region."
He says "tunnel vision for immediate savings cannot put local service delivery at risk."
In an email to KitchenerToday.com, a spokesperson for Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliott said details are still being worked out.
"While the government will bring forward proposals, the specific boundaries of the new regional health units will be finalized in consultation with municipalities through technical working groups, which we expect to launch shortly." said Hayley Chazan.
"In the meantime, we are in direct contact with all public health units to provide information about our modernization plan and to answer questions. Through these technical working groups, we will also work with our municipal partners to design governance and delivery models that protect and preserve the voice of all municipalities. In doing so, we will ensure that public health investments better meet the needs of local communities." Chazan added.
with files from Tony Saxon