The Renfrew County District Health Unit is now searching for a new Medical Officer of Health.
But it won’t be easy to find the right candidate. They’ll need the mental toughness to advocate for public health initiatives in an era when health leaders often come under attack.
The message was shared by outgoing Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Cushman. At age 75, he’s finally retiring at the end of the year.
He told Moose FM that nastiness directed at health workers is a serious concern that needs to be addressed.
“A lot of my colleagues really burnt out during COVID,” he says. “They just found it too stressful, the criticisms, the pressures of being in the public arena. I think some of the younger folks would rather be an associate than be the chief medical officer of health for a region because they’re not centre stage and not subject to all the pressure and all the criticism.”
Criticism of people in MOH roles started before COVID, Cushman says. When he worked in Ottawa several years ago he had to have a bodyguard, because people were upset about new smoking bylaws being promoted by public health workers.
Cushman also expressed a concern about a shift in the way public health initiatives are being perceived. At the start of the pandemic, health workers were often praised, but now they’re becoming subject to increasing nastiness.
“It’s widespread, I’m hearing about this all the time,” he says. “Some of the verbal abuse and impatience that they’re seeing from people is really horrible. We know the health care system is under duress. We know people are quitting and wishing to do other things, because they’re fed up. We may have trouble recruiting new people.”
Dr. Ian Gemmill will become the Medical Officer of Health for Renfrew County from January to April, as the health unit searches for a new top doctor.