Current trends concern health unit

According to the Northwestern Health Unit, the Kenora/Rainy River districts are not exactly a healthy place to live. And it’s getting worse.
This cheery message, the basis of a presentation during the Rainy River District Municipal Association’s annual meeting in Stratton on Saturday, came complete with graphs and flow charts to back it up.
Val Mann, director of program planning for the health unit, told delegates that residents here eat too much, smoke too much, drink too much, and tend to incur serious injuries more than in most of the other 36 health regions in Ontario.
We also are getting older as a population. And this, in conjunction with a lower health care budget than the national or provincial average, is a crisis in the making, Mann warned.
“We have a lower life expectancy than elsewhere in Ontario or the Canadian average,” she said.
Mann noted the region has the highest mortality rates in the province from cancer, cardiovascular disease, strokes, injury, and poisoning. Much of this, she added, is self-imposed and therefore preventable.
“Surveys show we have more smokers here than the provincial or national average,” Mann said. “Also, people report more heavy drinking and lower consumption of fruits and vegetables than the average.”
There also are more people exposed to second-hand smoke, she added.
Another factor, Mann said, is the unemployment rate, which is in the top half of the national average. That may account for the tendency for young people to leave the area and find employment elsewhere, which, in turn, accounts for the aging trend.
“Our population is graying,” she observed. “We have increased numbers of seniors and decreased numbers of children.”
But this trend is reversed in the native population, where young people are increasing more quickly, she added.
Dr. Pete Sarsfield, CEO and medical officer of health for the Northwestern Health Unit, summed up both problems after Mann’s address.
“What you’ve seen is a grim health picture,” he said. “We’re treading water and need more funds. We just don’t have the ability to pay for these things in Northwestern Ontario.”
Dr. Sarsfield didn’t place all the blame on underfunding, however. He also pointed a finger squarely at the choices people here have made—or failed to make.
“There is a burden of preventable illness here that is the worst in the country,” he argued.
Ed Przednowek, financial director for the health unit, said the board has averaged only a two percent increase in its budget over the last four years—the lowest in the country.
The national average is eight percent, he noted.
This year, the health unit’s board is requesting a $1.1-million increase in funding. And some of this will come from an increase in the municipal levy, which is now the highest in the province.
Afterwards, Dr. Sarsfield and Bill Limerick, environmental health team director, fielded questions from the floor, most of which concerned the ongoing battle between the health unit and district businesses that have failed to comply with its ban on smoking in all enclosed public places.
There was virtually unanimous support for the health unit’s tough stand in laying complaints against businesses not in compliance.
But Dr. Sarsfield also reminded those on hand that this matter has yet to be tested by the courts and likely will not be resolved anytime soon.