Call to add public health units to provincial Ombudsman's portfolio

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An Essex town councillor is calling for public health units to be added to the provincial Ombudsman's mandate.

Steve Bjorkman says the COVID-19 pandemic has shed a light on a need for more transparency and accountability.

In a recent report, Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube recommended health units be rolled into his portfolio as they currently operate with no oversight.

Bjorkman says the request is not out of line.

"In the Ombudsman's report, the Ombudsman noted that the health unit do not fall under his mandate or with that watchdog organization," he continued. "The quote from the Ombudsman was for any public service to function as well as possible, there must be oversight, a complaint mechanism and a way to have those complaints addressed."

Bjorkman says, as a publicly funded service, residents deserve the right to ask questions.

"As we saw through COVID, all the things that we've dealt with through the health unit, the data we were looking for, the instructions some people accepted, some people didn't accept, some felt they were targeted. There was no way for them to go above the health unit."

Bjorkman says the Association of Municipalities of Ontario is making the recommendation as well.

"You can only go to the health unit, there is no oversight. Mr. Paul Dube's recommendation to the government is that they place the health units under his watchdog arm and AMO is also putting that forward," Bjorkman said.

Essex council agreed with Bjorkman and will now send a letter to the Premier's office, the Ministry of Health and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

Ontario's Ombudsman is independent from the government and investigates complaints made by the public.