Health unit budget a case of shuffling deck chairs


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Not a good week for the guiding light over at Elgin St. Thomas Public Health. But then again, CEO Cynthia St. John hasn’t enjoyed many shining moments over the past year or so.

Following last Saturday’s revelation St. John has called in city police to investigate the actions of a dismissed inspector, we learn she was summoned to appear before Elgin county council Tuesday to shed light on the health unit’s 2011 budget.

Council has expressed concerns about a number of increases in this year’s budget versus the 2010 edition.

Specifically, a whopping increase in the service/repairs line item from $30,000 last year to $208,460 this time around.

As it turns out, according to St. John, money realized in rent savings under a two-year, short-term lease with the county, owner of the health unit’s home at 99 Edward St., is being stashed away for a possible new home for the organization.

This corner has alluded to this situation on several occasions. Last June we noted the health unit had over $600,000 parked away in guaranteed investment certificates. Is this all part of the same future home fund?

It’s no secret St. John has her eye on a Talbot Street property in the city’s west end, owned by London developer Shmuel Farhi.

What hasn’t been validated is the need to move from their current base.

Also of interest to county council is the advertising/promotion/communications budget item, pegged this year at $60,000, up from $20,000.

Again, it has been noted in this corner that amount is to pay for the services of London spin doctor John Matsui, ostensibly to develop the health unit’s social media presence.

There’s also the matter of a $76,000 reduction in non-union salaries, which St. John attributes to a two-year salary freeze.

Uh, not to mention the elimination of at least seven staff positions in the past year or so.

So, if there is a two-year salary freeze, what leadership is demonstrated when the CEO enjoys a 10% hike in wages in the past two years?

In February, 2008, the Ontario Nurses’ Association requested the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care conduct a review of the Grey Bruce Health Unit under section 82 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act. The Heath Unit, which services residents in Owen Sound and surrounding communities, had cut registered nursing positions and programs following its move to a new $20 million waterfront building.

The ONA was concerned management decisions about service delivery and the cutting of public health nursing positions would result in the degradation of its ability to deliver mandated services.

Is the situation in St. Thomas trundling along a similar route?

A STAR IN THE MAKING

Against a backdrop ideally suited to a small-town wedding reception — what with the balloons, amateur band and basement recreation room feel — Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands was acclaimed last Saturday as provincial Liberal candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London.

A hundred or so party faithful dropped by to hear her acceptance and trade handshakes with five MPPs and cabinet ministers.

It was quite the step down from the days when local Libs could pack a high school gym with raucous supporters. Now, not even the allure of Team London — health minister Deb Matthews, Attorney General Chris Bentley and MPP Khalil Ramal — could drum up much more than passing interest.

In the media handout, Baldwin-Sands noted, “I am driven to continue to serve the citizens of our community with the same passion, commitment and strength of my convictions as I have shown in all my leadership roles.”

She continued, “I have demonstrated a commitment to fiscal responsibility, social awareness and have a history of working to build consensus.”

Obviously written before the budget night fiasco last month in council chambers.

Matthews used the occasion to rattle the chain of PC candidate, Jeff Yurek.

She suggested PC leader Tim Hudak has a true allegiance to ‘Big Pharma’ in Ontario and that’s why he’s running pharmacists as candidates across the province.

With a shot like that aimed at Yurek, a popular downtown pharmacist, it’s a sure-fire prescription for an ill-tempered campaign this summer.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“Lori, you are a star. We are attracted by your light, that’s why we’re here.”

London-Fanshawe Liberal MPP Khalil Ramal with his glowing assessment of Lori Baldwin-Sands, acclaimed last Saturday as the Liberal candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London in the fall provincial election.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to: mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.

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One thought on “Health unit budget a case of shuffling deck chairs

  1. LAYERS OF THE ONION
    As you peel back the layers of the onion, I am wondering why the Elgin St. Thomas Public Health (ESTPH) endures in its current state. As an example, over the past few months the ESTPH have hired a full-time tobacco enforcement officer and a casual tobacco enforcement officer. That sounds like law enforcement to me, not health service.
    During this same timeframe, it appears they have hired 3 full-time program assistants, 2 permanent public health nurses, a dentist, a part-time dental assistant, a part-time public health nurse and a part-time volunteer coordinator bolstered by 3 temporary public health nurses and a temporary inspector. This must be some of that rarified “demonstrated commitment to fiscal responsibility…” we keep hearing about but can never find.
    ESTPH’s self-proclaimed mandate it is to build “a healthy community by promoting and supporting the health of the people who live, work and play in Elgin County through the delivery of effective public health programs and services.” That sounds a bit like god, country and motherhood, so to bring clarity to the value of the ESTPH what specific, mandatory and unique services do they provide and what level of staffing is required to actually deliver those services? If our mayor and council, as paying customers, cannot answer that question then the question for them is why do you keep pouring dollars down that sinkhole?

    QUOTE FOR THE WEEK
    All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

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