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Leaving front-line positions vacant not the way to balance the Toronto Public Health Budget

Dear Councillor Mihevc and Members of the Board of Health:

RE:     HL25.6 – Toronto Public Health Staff Vacancies as at August 31, 2013 and HL25.8 – Toronto Public Health 2014 Operating Budget Request

The number of staff vacancies and gapped positions continue to be a year-in year-out problem at Toronto Public Health (TPH).  Service levels must be affected by this.  The accumulative effects of budget cuts, hiring freezes, vacancies, gapping and flat-lined budgets must translate directly into service cuts in Public Health.

CUPE Local 79 represents approximately 87 percent of the bargaining unit positions in Toronto Public Health and our members feel the effects of understaffing on their workloads and in their workplaces every day.

One of the many reports before the Board of Health today deals specifically with Toronto Public Health Staff Vacancies.  As of August 31, 2013 Toronto Public Health had a total of 139.9 vacancies, 57 permanent and 79.9 temporary positions.  These vacancies mean that there are 39 fewer public health nurses on the job, fewer dentists, street outreach workers, registered practical nurses, community health officers and the list goes on.  How can public health services not be affected?

The Staff Report from the Medical Officer of Health acknowledges the existing high volume of vacancies and outlines the efforts that are being made to recruit and hire staff.  One of the major challenges facing TPH is gapping.  The report states, “the TPH actual, experienced gapping rate of 8.0 percent as of August 31, 2013 exceeded the 4.1 percent planned rate in the annual operating budget.”  Although TPH is taking action to try and fill vacancies the gapping rate must be significantly reduced and staffing levels stabilized.

That brings us to the Toronto Public Health 2014 Operating Budget Request.  The context of the 2014 Operating Budget for all City Divisions, Agencies, Board and Commissions is the direction from the City Manager that all budgets must “be equivalent to the 2013 Approved Net Operating Budget, resulting in a zero percent increase over the 2013 net Budget.”  In effect, this means cuts to services.

When City Council adopted the 2013 Operating Budget, Toronto Public Health had 1,875.15 approved positions.  The actual number of filled positions for 2013 is still unknown.  TPH is requesting 1,876.02 positions in 2014. 

Given the vacancy rates at TPH, and the history of excessive gapping, it was indeed surprising to read in the “Budget Reduction Options” an increase in the overall gapping target, including 100 percent provincially funded and capital programs, from 4.1 to 5.1 percent.  The report notes, “the increase in the gapping rate will allow the savings to be directed to enhance existing programs and will have no services impact.”  No service impact?

It was informative to know that, “since 2010 the cumulative provincial revenue foregone due to the City’s financial constraints is $8.153 million, assuming the 2014 budget request is approved.  The opportunity to invest in and build public health programs and services in areas such a communicable disease control and chronic disease prevention is foregone when available provincial funding is not maximized.”

There must be a better approach employed to deal with the Public Health budget.  The solution can’t always be to increase gapping levels and leave front-line positions vacant.  Budgets for programs that are cost-shared with the Province cannot be flat-lined and cut.  The ‘one size fits all’ budget process does not work for every Division, Agency, Board or Commission.  What’s happening in Public Health is a prime example.

CUPE Local 79 appreciates that we have been contacted by the office of the Medical Officer of Health to discuss the 2014 Operating Budget.  We look forward to the discussions.

 Yours truly,

 Tim Maguire, President











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