Two delegations call for third party review of Grey-Bruce board of health

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GREY-BRUCE – Two delegations, one consisting of Melissa Kanmacher and Cathy Moore Coburn (John Tamming and Ryan Greig could not attend the meeting), and the other of Micheline Mann, addressed the Grey-Bruce board of health at the May 28 meeting with a number of concerns about the leadership of Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health (MOH).

The first delegation had sent a letter dated March 29, 2021 detailing their concerns. All four are members of municipal councils – Tamming – Owen Sound, Moore Coburn – Georgian Bluffs, and Kanmacher and Greig – Arran-Elderslie.

Their statement to the board reiterated what was said in the letter.

“We are very, very concerned about recent developments at the health unit,” they wrote. “We speak both of what the board paid its chief executive last year and of the very high rate of management turnover since his appointment.”

First to speak at the May meeting was Kanmacher, who described the amount paid to Arra last year as “an anomaly and a travesty.” As stated in their letter, Arra was paid $631,510, the highest of the 36 medical officers of health in Ontario.

The four took exception to the statement that Arra had been without an associate medical officer of health (AMOH) during 2020. The letter stated that during part of the year, “the board relied on his acting AMOH, Dr. Linni Li,” who left part-way through the year.

She wasn’t the only one. Kanmacher said 17 members of senior management have left their positions since Arra arrived in 2018 – a number disputed by the board. She made references to staff (and former staff) members who had “anonymously shared their stories.”

Moore Coburn did the second part of the presentation, asking that questions about the MOH’s pay be answered publicly. She further asked that a financial audit be conducted, along with a third-party human resources review.

The letter went into detail about the sort of information the four were requesting, including if there were “constraints of any kind placed on Dr. Arra’s overtime billings,” and if the board had considered whether the claimed overtime may have reflected things other than “his dedication” – including not delegating, and the loss of middle and upper management under his tenure.

The letter called for a response within 30 days. The response was made shortly before the May 28 meeting.

Included in the agenda package along with the original letter were several other related items including an open letter to the four dated March 31 from Alar Soever, mayor of the Town of the Blue Mountains. Soever stated in the letter, “We should not be asking why he is being paid so much, but why other medical officers of health haven’t worked equally as hard, earned the same amount of overtime, and achieved the same results.”

Soever further stated, “I am shocked that you would object to paying someone for hard work and the resulting success, particularly when it is measured in the saving of lives.”

The letter was followed up with the unanimous passing of a resolution from the Town of the Blue Mountains expressing support for Arra and his team. A number of municipalities in Grey-Bruce have passed similar resolutions.

Other letters from individuals, agencies and councils commented on Arra’s “extraordinary leadership during the most profound health crisis of our lifetimes,” referred to his “continuous, timely and reliable support when it mattered most,” and stated they had “full confidence in him and his team.”

A letter from the board dated May 20 responded to the questions in the original letter – yes, the board was aware of the compensation paid to Arra, and yes, oversight was provided.

The board letter stated there were eight, not 17 departures from middle and upper management during Arra’s tenure; four were voluntary, and four the result of the province’s direction to reduce the budget by 10 per cent. The choice was deliberate, to avoid a greater reduction in front-line staff.

Several other items of correspondence were not so positive, and referred to the second delegation. Mann discussed the 1,480-name petition calling for “transparency” and “accountability.” Her primary concerns were the overtime wages paid to the MOH and the loss of high-level staff.

“The public deserves transparency,” she said, adding that staff deserve “a respectful environment.

“An investigation is warranted,” said Mann, who asked for an organizational review. “Convince me our MOH has not taken advantage.…”

Board chair Sue Paterson, mayor of Hanover, said the board will “make its decision (regarding both delegations) and will respond accordingly.”

New vice-chair elected

Alan Barfoot is the new vice-chair of the Grey Bruce Board of Health. Two members of the board were nominated for the position – Barfoot, who now lives in Bruce County, and Chris Peabody, mayor of Brockton. The first vote resulted in a tie. Later in the meeting, the arrival of another board member, Helen-Claire Tingling, resulted in Barfoot’s election.

Barfoot has served as board chair in the past and is not presently an elected municipal official.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times

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