Mergers are all about creating efficiencies, so who will be left at the alter in health unit marriage?

city_scope_logo-cmykFriday’s announcement of the proposed merger of Elgin St. Thomas Public Health and Oxford County Public Health – which aligns with the province’s call for fewer health units with autonomous boards – is, no doubt, intended to create efficiencies.
Such is the desired effect of any merger, no matter the business sector.
To quote the media release, the two health units “began exploring a potential merger as a way of working towards a strong, unified rural voice for public health in Ontario.”
To further quote from the release, “The intent to merge was formalized through a letter of intent signed by Oxford County Warden David Mayberry on November 8 and Elgin St. Thomas Board of Health Chair Bernie Wiehle on November 9. The letter of intent commits both organizations to a review of each other’s finances, operations and assets; to equally sharing any costs associated with the merger; and to pursuing the necessary statutory and regulatory change at the provincial level before the merger becomes official.”
The new body – with a name to be announced later – would service approximately 90,000 St. Thomas/Elgin county residents and almost 114,000 residents in Oxford if the merger is approved and becomes reality next spring.
health unit

The next step is to submit a formal request to the Minister of Health & Long-Term Care seeking approval to merge, then seeking the necessary legislative and regulatory changes in order for the merger to proceed next year.
Governance for the new health unit will be provided through a transitional board appointed in spring 2018, followed by the appointment of an autonomous board of health with citizen and municipal representation in the fall of 2018.
The Elgin St. Thomas Public Health board of directors consists of three members each from St. Thomas and Elgin county and one public appointee.
After careful dissemination of the media release, you can’t help but wonder if the merger is driven by the county contingent. There is no reaction or comment from the three city representatives: vice-chair Mayor Heather Jackson and councillors Linda Stevenson and Steve Wookey.
Chairman Wiehle stresses, “We’re confident the model we are putting forward will ensure a strong, vibrant, and efficient public health agency for now and for the future.”
While Wiehle notes the two counties share the same school boards as “sharing similar characteristics,” ask parents of children whose rural schools will close in the coming year or so how that is working out for them.
Oxford County Warden David Mayberry adds, “Oxford County and Elgin St. Thomas share a viewpoint that a local solution offering equitable
representation from across our municipalities best serves the interests of our communities.”
Again, ask those same parents if their local solutions were embraced by the Thames Valley District School Board.
To reiterate, mergers bring with them the push for efficiencies.
The media release addresses that by pointing out current offices in St. Thomas and Woodstock will be maintained. However, one Medical Officer of Health and one CEO will serve the jurisdiction.
Dr. Joyce Locke ($298,739 salary in 2016) was appointed MOH in 2014 and Cynthia St. John ($150,908) has been CEO for many years.
So, will one or both of these individuals – with their associated remuneration – be seeking employment elsewhere in the new year?
Because we truly are seeking financial efficiencies and not another case of a bloated bureaucracy.


The Rogers Hometown Hockey Tour makes its St. Thomas stop next Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 18 and 19). The family focussed weekend features broadcast hosts Ron MacLean and Tara Slone, meet-and-greet opportunities with NHL alumni Scott Thornton and Brad Marsh, live local entertainment and a rink full of other activities to keep fans of all ages occupied.
rogers hometown hockeyjpgThe two-day hockey happening kicks off noon Saturday at city hall and runs until 6 p.m. then resumes Sunday at noon and wraps up Sunday evening after outdoor hockey viewing party featuring the NHL matchup between the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers.
Here’s just a taste of what to expect:

  • Rogers Fan Hub: The Fan Hub features innovative and interactive experiences, showcasing virtual autographs from NHL stars, a hockey-themed Zamboni video game and autograph signings with NHL alum Scott Thornton. In addition, fans are treated to free hot chocolate on site.
  • Sportsnet Augmented Reality Photo Booth: Fans have the chance to get close to their favorite players through augmented reality technology. Fans can take photos with virtual images of NHL stars, and have the photo emailed directly to their device for social sharing.
  • The Hockey Circus Show: Featuring Paz, who juggles everything from pucks to flaming hockey sticks while standing on top of a net.
  • Scotiabank Community Locker Room: A family friendly space to engage hockey fans, celebrate the game, and interact with NHL alumni, such as Brad Marsh.
  • Dodge Family Zone: Features the Stow ’n Go Challenge, a hockey-themed obstacle course. Also, fans have the opportunity to enter a contest to win $5,000 for their local minor hockey association and a 2018 Chrysler Pacifica for their family. All contest entrants will receive a co-branded Dodge and Rogers Hometown Hockey retro toque.
  • Tim Hortons Ball Hockey Rink presented by Sportsnet: Features pick-up games for the community, including local Timbits Hockey players.
  • Dr. Oetker Giuseppe Pizzeria: Fans can enjoy a free slice of Giuseppe Pizzeria pizza fresh out of the oven, and play the Find Giuseppe Match Game to win a rooftop experience and other great prizes.
  • Playmobil Kids Zone: Fans have the chance to face off against friends and family with the PLAYMOBIL NHL Arena and its lineup of NHL figures. In the zone, fans will also be able to enter to win a new NHL play set.
  • OK Tire Zamboni Pit Stop: Features a pit-crew-like experience where fans have the opportunity to test their tire-hanging skills on a replica Zamboni.
  • Live local entertainment: Featured throughout the weekend beginning with Basic White performing Saturday and Chad Price on Sunday.

As for Sunday evening’s hockey broadcast, it will include Colin Campbell, Scott Thornton, and Joe’s parents Mary and Wayne Thornton.
Featured segments include:
Joe Thornton is reunited with long-time friend Steve Barber in Buffalo. Barber has raised half a million dollars benefiting ALS.
And Tara Slone takes part in the St. Thomas Santa Clause Parade on a Rogers Hometown Hockey float, along with kids from the minor hockey league in the community.

It may very well prove to be the most important public information session in recent memory.
factsonfentanylThe St. Thomas Police Service is partnering with the health unit and Yurek’s Pharmacy to host a Facts on Fentanyl seminar, open to the public, to present the latest information on the deadly drug and its impact on the community.
The free event is a must for social workers, PSW’s, child and youth workers, police officers, security guards, school officials and friends and family members of individuals struggling with opioid addiction.
Topics up for discussion include Trends on the Street: Crime Prevention Strategies and the Patch for Patch Program; Opiate Crisis; Opiate Substituition Therapy; and Harm Reduction Services.
The seminar will be held 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 23 at the St. Thomas Seniors Centre.


The Tony Award-winning production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is running through Nov. 19 at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto.
Well, here in St. Thomas over the past couple of weeks we’ve had our own curious tale of a rather large dog and its homeless owner that has generated considerable debate on social media.
Not to mention becoming a topic of discussion this past week at city council where members declared Nitro the Malamute a dangerous dog.
You see, it has attacked several other animals, killing a much small dog in the process.


Coun. Joan Rymal

Coun. Joan Rymal asked the key question on Monday: Why is this coming before city council?
St. Thomas Police have been involved and issued a release urging the female owner to surrender the dog to city staff at the pound.
Which she did and Nitro is now at the animal shelter.
Coun. Rymal asked another critical question: Is the pound staff capable of handling a 140-pound dog known to be aggressive?
Environmental Services director Justin Lawrence assured mayor and council this would not be a problem.
You can’t help but worry for the safety of pound employees dealing with Nitro, now separated from its owner and confined to a cage in the poorly equipped animal shelter.
Where it likely will be euthanized.
Would this not have had a far better outcome if the real issue had been addressed? That is, offering assistance to the homeless woman.
More so in light of council approving a process whereby the homeless people in St. Thomas and Elgin will be enumerated in order to better tackle this social issue.
St. Thomas police did advise in their latest media release, “The owner is being offered services thru community resources.”
What is the game plan should police and city staff be confronted with a similar situation. Who is responsible for what and does it need to come before our elected officials?
Especially with a new incident in which a woman was attacked by three dogs, all owned by the same individual.
All the more reason for Lawrence to develop a long-term plan for the animal shelter, sooner rather than later.
This may very well be a curious case of the tail wagging the dog.
As an aside, the Toronto production is highly recommended.


Schouten Excavating Employees have been on the Talbot Street site for much of the past week and demolition of the four-storey Sutherland Press building is slated to begin this week (week of Nov. 13).
Sutherland demo proceeding1The process is likely to take about a month with re-opening of the adjacent transit centre to take place once the structure has been reduced to a safe height.
Likewise, Moore Street will again be open to traffic south from Talbot Street when deemed safe.
The disappearance of the 1913-era building, however, is no guarantee we have heard the last of owner David McGee.

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