London

As health board meets behind closed doors, staff left in limbo without permanent leadership

The the Middlesex London Health Unit's board members meet Thursday in private, workers are left in limbo without a leader during the absence of medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie, says the president of the union that represents employees.

Medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie has been off since October for unspecified reasons

Another closed-door meeting is to be held at the health unit on Thursday. (Angela McInnes/CBC )

As the Middlesex London Health Unit's board members meet again Thursday in private, workers are still without a permanent leader during the absence of medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie and getting more frustrated as time goes on, says the president of the union that represents employees. 

"All of my members are left in limbo. They're left to wonder, and that's never a good place to be," said Steve Holland, the president of CUPE Local 101, who represents about 300 workers at the health unit. 

"The reality is, Dr. Mackie has been the head person for quite some time and when you're left in limbo, it's hard to move forward. It creates a lot of frustration."

Mackie has been absent from his role as medical officer of health since mid-November. No reason was given for his departure. 

Dr. Alex Summers, who is the acting medical officer of health in Mackie's absence, and Emily Williams, who is the new CEO at the health unit, have been working with the union and communicating with staff well, Holland said. 

"Dr. Mackie has been out for quite some time. It's sitting there, over people's heads, whether, or when, he will come back," he said. 

Another closed-door meeting

A special board of health meeting was called for Thursday evening, and it is expected to be held entirely behind closed doors. 

The matters that will be discussed will pertain to a personal matter about an identifiable individual, about labour relations or employee negotiations, litigation or potential litigation, and advice that's subject to solicitor-client privilege, a spokesperson said. 

This is the second such closed-door meeting this year. The previous one was on Feb. 16. The minutes for the meeting — including who attended — are not yet publicly available. It was held to discuss a personal matter about an identifiable individual and to get advice subject to lawyer-client privilege. 

The closed-door meetings and the fact that there was no reason given for Mackie's November departure have impacted staff and allowed rumours to take hold, Holland said. 

"No one knows anything. They've kept it hush-hush," he said. "The problem is that if you don't say what's going on, people think there's something to hide. When it's shrouded in mystery, people start talking, people start wondering." 

Mackie's abrupt leave of absence was announced by the board of health on Nov. 15. Prior to that, he stepped away from his duties as CEO in July 2020. 

Closed-door health board meetings used to be rare. There were was just one in 2013 and none from 2014 to 2016. In 2017, there was one such meeting, and then two in 2018 and three in 2019. 

There were six closed-door meetings in 2020, and three in 2021. 

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