Hamilton

Haldimand-Norfolk's medical officer of health to leave post in May

Nesathurai, who has served the region for nearly three years, says his last day in the position will be May 21.

Without giving a reason for the departure, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai says May 21 will be his last day

Haldimand-Norfolk's board of health will have to search for a new medical officer of health now that Dr. Shanker Nesathurai has said he won't serve past May. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Haldimand-Norfolk's medical officer of health, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, announced Friday that he will be stepping down in May. 

Nesathurai, who has served the region for nearly three years, says his last day in the position will be May 21. He didn't give a reason.

"I want to thank the public health staff who have worked tirelessly to keep the community safe," Nesathurai said in a news release. 

"The community is lucky to be served by a group of people so committed to advancing the cause of public health." 

Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, who has served the region for nearly three years, says his last day in the position will be May 21. (McMaster University)

A significant portion of Nesathurai's tenure with the health unit was spent managing the COVID-19 pandemic, work which included preventing and managing outbreaks at area nursing homes and migrant farm worker housing facilities, as well as rolling out a COVID-19 vaccination program.

Attracted some criticism

Nesathurai, who is also a McMaster University health sciences professor, attracted some criticism during his tenure.

That includes a recent directive saying migrant workers who self-isolate for two weeks after arriving in Canada for seasonal work can't leave their rooms, even for some fresh air.

He also attracted the ire of some cottagers last year when he forbade people outside the area from visiting their secondary homes in Haldimand and Norfolk, which matched provincial advice at the time.

A local farmer also challenged the health unit in court after Nesathurai issued an order limiting the number of self-isolating workers in any one bunkhouse to three. The court upheld the order. 

Matt Terry, director of corporate communications, says the health unit has had discussions with the Ontario Ministry of Health, as well as adjacent health units, regarding support and next steps, and will update the community when details are available.

'Extremely valuable'

Terry said the health unit will continue to focus on facilitating the safe arrival of thousands of migrant workers, rolling out a COVID-19 vaccination program, and executing a virus containment strategy targeted at new, more contagious variants of concern. 

Norfolk County Mayor Kristal Chopp, who is also chair of the board of health, thanked Nesathurai for his service.

"I want to thank Dr. Nesathurai for his hard work and leadership through this incredibly difficult time," Chopp said.

"His insight and guidance has been extremely valuable to the leadership of both Haldimand and Norfolk counties, and we wish him all the best as he winds down his time with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit."

Haldimand-Norfolk's general manager of health and social services, Marlene Miranda, also left recently to take a new job with the City of Brantford. 

With files from Saira Peesker

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