As of April 1, 2020, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit will cease to exist as we know it.

The Progressive Conservatives promised health care would be restructured across Ontario in the budget tabled last month. The province has set a goal of condensing the number of health units from 35 to 10.

Locally, this means the SMDHU will split, the Simcoe County portion will merge with York Region, and the Muskoka portion will combine with a new unit that will cover everywhere from Parry Sound to North Bay, Sudbury, Timiskaming, and part of Renfrew.

“It’s a complex change,” Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Charles Gardner said. “It’s a lot more complicated than if all of Simcoe Muskoka were to join, say, York, for example.”

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said the move raises some concerns about how much focus local issues will continue to receive. “It concerns me a great deal that merging with York Region, which is a huge area - a huge health unit to the south - could lead to a loss of local decision making, and a loss to local input.”

There are questions about what will happen with local projects lead by the health unit, like the strategy to combat the city’s opioid crisis. Lehman tweeted in response to the announcement earlier today, “Because, evidently, you can best fight the opioid crisis in Barrie from Markham.”

Dr. Gardner said there will continue to be a focus on the crisis, until the merge. “And then it becomes something to be handed over, along with all of our other priorities.”

The financial responsibilities of these programs may also shift to the municipalities. Mayor Lehman said if the province stops funding the programs, cities will be forced to decide if they can even continue to keep them. “Do we try to make up that funding gap, to keep the services the same, or do we accept that the services are gone?”

The board of health will meet on Wednesday to review the information from the province and discuss how best to respond to the change.

“I see this as short-sighted,” Lehman said. “Good public health keeps people out of the health care system, so it actually reduces costs.”