Top public health docs in London, Norfolk, Ont., get six-figure OT pay
By Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
LONDON FREE PRESS
The top public health officials in Southwestern Ontario pulled in hundreds of thousands in overtime pay last year for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least two of the region’s medical officers of health received more than $100,000 each in overtime, including Middlesex-London’s top public health doctor, Chris Mackie, and Haldimand-Norfolk’s Shanker Nesathurai.
The overtime pay is part of a provincial program to compensate local health units for extraordinary expenses incurred relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.Advertisement
“It was one of the initiatives set up by the province to recognize some of the frontline healthcare workers,” said London city councillor Maureen Cassidy, who chairs the Middlesex-London board of health.
“They’ve asked us to keep a tally of all the overtime hours and the dollars for every one of our employees who have worked overtime directly related to the COVID-19 response,” she said.
Between March 22 and Nov. 14 of last year, the health unit had 47 staff log overtime ranging from 44 to 716 hours. The global pandemic was declared in mid-March.
Mackie, the London area’s medical officer of health, logged 611 overtime hours during that period, earning a payout of $100,072. His base salary in 2019 was $300,000.
“That reflects the leader of an organization that has gone from five days a week, 8:30 to 4:30, to seven days a week, 8:30 until some days, 10 at night,” Cassidy said about the overtime pay.
The total staff overtime spending at the Middlesex-London Health Unit was $730,000.
Cassidy said public health staff are making “incredible sacrifices” in their personal lives while battling the pandemic.
As Haldimand-Norfolk’s medical officer of health, Nesathurai logged 1,100 overtime hours, worth $160,000, on top of a base salary of $240,000.
Joyce Lock, the medical officer of health for Oxford and Elgin counties, received just more than $62,000 in overtime pay ”for hours worked over and above the regular schedule as well as unused vacation,” according to Larry Martin, Southwestern Public Health’s board chairperson.
“The Ministry of Health has provided provincial health units with clear guidelines for allowable COVID-19 expenditures eligible for reimbursement,” Martin said in a statement. “(Lock’s) employment contract . . . allows for overtime payments in specific circumstances — such as those that have unfolded over the course of what is now a year-long pandemic response.”
Lock’s salary in 2019 was $288,000.
The base salaries of medical officers of health are paid by local health boards based on member municipalities’ professional salary scale and benefits policies.
Whether an individual medical officer of health is eligible for overtime pay, and how they’re compensated, depends on each board’s contract and municipal policies.
In Ontario, most managers and supervisors, usually paid a salary rather than by the hour, aren’t typically paid overtime.
“In September 2020, public health units were provided with an opportunity to request additional one-time funding from the ministry for COVID-19 extraordinary costs incurred,” Anna Miller, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, said in an email.
“Examples of eligible COVID-19 extraordinary costs included overtime for staff if local board of health policies related to overtime allowed for this.”
Meanwhile, Lambton’s medical officer of health, Sudit Ranade, did not receive any overtime pay as the County of Lambton’s overtime policy sees employees take time off in lieu.
Shari Sterling, executive assistant for Lambton County’s public health services, said Ranade has “some banked hours” but did not specify how many.
Lambton submitted $848,429 to the province for reimbursement for COVID-19 extraordinary costs, including staff salaries, accommodation, supplies, equipment and communications.
Health units in Huron-Perth, Chatham-Kent, Windsor-Essex and Grey-Bruce did not immediately respond to Free Press requests about overtime expenses during the pandemic for medical officers of health and other staff.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation slammed the overtime pay.
“Ontarians hand over nearly half — 45 per cent — of their household income to governments every year in taxes, yet we’re still a province struggling with hallway healthcare and chronic problems in long-term care,” said Jasmine Moulton, the federation’s Ontario director.
“Then you see governments handing out six-figure top-ups and seven-figure severances to top health officials, and you start to see where the problem truly lies.”
Moulton said 355,300 Ontarians lost their jobs last year amid the pandemic.
“This story is further proof that we’re not all in this together.”
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