Ottawa Public Health budget tries to do more with less

Ottawa Public Health will try to do more with less this year after the Ontario provincial government refused its request for a two per cent cost-of-living increase for the 2019 and 2020 budget years.

It leaves OPH short $1.4 million. 

"There is a pressure on our budget, no question," said Ottawa's medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches, but she said the agency tried to tighten its belt without a big impact on public services.

Much of the shortfall in Monday's draft budget would be made up through salaries by not filling eight full-time job vacancies. 

Other "efficiencies" were found from improved pricing from suppliers. 

The public could also expect more online and video educational programs that were once delivered in person. 

However, three programs that receive direct provincial funding would actually see an expansion in 2020: the dental care program for seniors, cannabis education and bylaw enforcement, and indigenous community services.

Pausing amalgamation a relief

OPH tabled the budget before the Ottawa Board of Health Monday night.

"[Deciding what to cut] certainly was a challenge," said the chair of the board Coun. Keith Egli.

"I'm not sure it's something we can do year over year."

Egli said the province's decision to stall its plan to consolidate the number of health units from 35 to 10 in Ontario is a big relief.

The plan would have expanded Ottawa public health's mandate from Prescott-Russell in the east to Addington County west of Kingston. 

The province has appointed Jim Pine to lead the new consultations on the plan and Egli said he wants the province to understand Ottawa's model works.

"We service over a million people, and I think you have to be very careful if you change that," said Egli.

"The strength of public health is its ability to know its community and the more communities you add to the mix, the more difficult it becomes to react."

The draft budget still needs final approval at city council next month.