Provincial cuts to public health funding announced recently by Premier Doug Ford will create a $4 million shortfall in Toronto in 2020 and another $14 million annually after that, according to Toronto board of health chair Joe Cressy.
“The new cuts to public health represent $14 million fewer provincial dollars every year for vital public health programs Torontonians rely on. Programs like school vaccinations, disease prevention, student breakfast programs, water quality testing, food safety inspections, and more,” Cressy said in a statement following the release on Friday of a board of health budget report that addresses the reduction in provincial funding.
The province currently funds between 75 and 100 per cent of the cost of public health programs. Municipalities pick up the rest of the tab.
Earlier this year, the province announced it was slashing public health funding provincially — by up to 50 per cent in Toronto — and that the cuts would be retroactive in 2019, punching a hole in the city’s budget after it had been debated and adopted by council.
Under sustained pressure from Cressy, municipalities and public health units across the province, and from Mayor John Tory, Ford softened his approach, announcing last week that provincial funding for all public health programs would instead be reduced by 30 per cent, including in Toronto.
While it represented an improvement over the earlier announcement, Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health for the City of Toronto, said in an interview that the board of health and city council are going to have to decide if they will cut services or find money in the city budget to fund the shortfall.
“From a public health perspective, what we’re trying to do is ensure that we are offering the best basket of services that needs to help meet the needs of our population today and into the foreseeable future,” said de Villa.
“Under no circumstances am I prepared to accept cuts that negatively affect the health of Torontonians,” said Cressy.
The board of health report identifies $1.7 million in potential savings, including a reduction of $1.4 million in the municipal dental program after the province announced it will fund its own dental care program for seniors, called the Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program. Others savings were found in non-essential areas, including a public awareness campaign for the city’s SwimSafe program, which rates public pools for cleanliness, and a reduction in the area of food-handler training courses.
“It’s not about inspections. We’re still going to do inspections,” said de Villa.
The report does not recommend cutting school nutrition programs, pointing out instead that if they are to continue as they do now, they need to make up for lost provincial funding and $1.1 million in inflationary pressures.
The board of health report is scheduled for discussion at a meeting on Tuesday of the board’s budget committee.
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