Health unit holds line on annual levy

Ken Johnston

Members of the Rainy River District Municipal Association should be pleased to know they will be paying less this year to the Northwestern Health Unit.
“Our board has decided to leave the per capita [levy] at $54.33 again this year,” said health unit CAO Mark Perrault.
However, the latest population figures show all communities the health unit serves in Rainy River District have declined. With less people to pay for, Perrault said municipalities will pay less this year.
Overall, he said that amounts to $204,000 less being charged to municipalities this year.
With that in mind, Perrault added the health unit has been busily reviewing ways to save money the past few years and still provide the same level of services.
“In 2008, we re-looked how we do things and trimmed our management,” he noted.
The health unit went from 16 managers to eight, saving a great deal of money. All those job cuts were in Kenora.
“Now we are focusing on performance management,” said Perrault. “We are looking at the way we do programs and measurement of performance.”
Perrault explained the health unit sometimes is forced to implement programs it does not always see as being needed locally.
He asked everyone at Saturday’s RRDMA annual meeting if they feel there is a problem with bed bugs in their communities.
No one felt there was.
“Toronto has a problem and had to allocate $500,000 in their budget to deal with it,” Perrault noted. “With elections coming, the province suddenly came up with $5 million to deal with bed bugs across the province.
“Guess who gets the responsibility to deal with them here? That’s right . . . us!
“We get pulled into wind turbines or wi-fi and other issues that only serve as a distraction from health issues,” added Perrault.
“Our board tries not to get pulled into money pit operations,” he pledged.
Recently, the health unit again was forced to take on a responsibility for small drinking water system inspections, inheriting the new task from the Ministry of the Environment.
Perrault said there more than 1,250 places (commercial) that need to be inspected.
Quickly it became apparent that this would be a daunting task and could mean many tourist camps, especially outpost ones, could be forced to incur huge costs or go out of business.
So they changed the list and removed most of the high-volume camps.
“Many places have a good drinking water system in their main facility,” said Perrault. “However, many of their outpost cabins do not.
“As long as it is posted in those, we are fine with that.”
Another frustration with being forced to perform services like this is the funding.
“This year it is 100 percent funded by the province,” noted Perrault. “So we are trying to get all the inspections done this year.
“After that, we will have to charge for them,” he warned.
Another frustration with the provincial government arose with the recent “Healthy Smiles” program that is 100 percent funded for five years and is supposed to provide free dental services for the working poor who do not have private insurance.
“While it looked and sounded good at first, the province set the income level to qualify too low,” charged Perrault.
He said a family of four cannot make more than $20,000 and people on social assistance do not qualify.
“They told us 880 people would be eligible. So far we have only had 20 qualify,” Perrault said.
“It is so ridiculous that it doesn’t include people on welfare or First Nations. They have created a program no one can use,” he stressed.
And yet the Northwestern Health Unit has to divert staff and resources to have the program ready to run.
Perrault is hopeful that the health unit’s plans to evaluate performance of programs will help them to keep costs at current levels.
“We are pledging not to increase public health costs to you,” he vowed.