Pembroke -- Dr. Robert Cushman, who helped guide the Renfrew County District Health Unit (RCDHU) through the COVID pandemic since early 2020 as the Acting Director of Medical Health, will not be renewing his contract after December 31, 2022.
The announcement was made by the RCDHU Board of Directors late last week. Dr. Ian Gemmill has been appointed as acting MOH for the interim period of Jan. 1, 2023 to April 30, 2023.
When Dr. Cushman first signed on A/Director in 2015, the original plan was for him to oversee the unit on a part-time basis while the Board of Directors searched for a permanent replacement. However, the onset of COVID and the declaration of a pandemic in March 202o followed by the provincial lockdown in April of that year and the race for a COVID vaccination had the longtime physician remain as the acting/director until his recent announcement.
Ann Aikens, former mayor of Deep River and now chair of the RCDHU board of directors, credited Dr. Cushman for his professionalism and dedication to the residents of Renfrew County for remaining in that role during the crisis.
“We cannot thank Dr. Cushman enough for everything he has done over the past five years to help us work toward our goal of achieving optimal health for all in Renfrew County and District,” she said. “His leadership will be missed. We look forward to working with Dr. Gemmill as we transition into post-pandemic recovery. We are grateful that he has agreed to join our team and share his passion and expertise as we continue to work with our partners to respond to local public health needs.”
During his tenure as A/D of Health, Dr. Cushman not only oversaw the rollout of the COVID vaccine, but he was active in the denouncement of abuse of healthcare workers during this time. In a letter to residents published in January of this year he urged residents to show some kindness, compassion and respect for those who were doing their best to help their fellow community members battle COVID-19.
In a letter he wrote in January of this year, he urged residents to show some kindness, compassion and respect for those who are doing their best to help their fellow community members battle COVID-19.
"Does the receptionist at a vaccine clinic have any control over a collapsed Internet registration system, he wrote. “Does a nurse have any responsibility for a shortage of vaccines and delayed appointments when she has spent the past year vaccinating people daily? Is the RCDHU responsible for a lack of rapid antigen tests? The answer is categorically no!"
Peter Emon, Reeve for the Town of Renfrew and its representative at Renfrew County Council, is a member of RCDHU Board of Director’s acknowledged his efforts.
“Dr. Cushman recognized quickly the limitations of smaller scale in Renfrew County whether with the Health Unit or the various health service providers,” Emon said. “Utilizing the relationships of Health Unit staff in the community he went about establishing effective working relationships with hospitals, paramedics, municipalities and others to serve our sprawling community. "He was able to link RCDHU into Ottawa Public Health for much needed assistance and support before and during COVID. This linkage combined with the partnerships with the hospitals, the Paramedics and the County of Renfrew provided our community a measure of confidence we would be looked after and cared for during the uncertainty which was present throughout the pandemic".
Ms. Aikens said the board and all RCDHU staff look forward to welcoming Gemmill to the RCDHU team and they extend their gratitude and heartfelt appreciation to Cushman for his service to staff and residents of Renfrew County and District (RCD) over the past five years.
Prior to his appointment in 2015, Dr. Cushman was the Senior Medical Advisor at Health Canada as well as the Director General, Biologics & Genetic Therapies from 2012 to 2015. He was the Chief Executive Officer of the Champlain Local Health Integration Network from 2005 to January 2011.
In that role, he focused on reducing surgical and diagnostic wait times, funding and promoting ‘aging at home’ projects, expanding addiction treatment programs, and completing groundwork for a regional hospital laboratory system.
Dr. Cushman made national headlines in 2000 when he was the Medical Officer of Health for the City of Ottawa, where he was instrumental in bringing in smoke-free legislation. Although viewed as controversial at the time, his leadership ushered in the acceptance of no-smoking policies both in the workplace and public spaces.
While RCDHU welcomes Gemmill as acting MOH, the Board of Health is actively recruiting for a permanent, full-time medical officer of health.
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader