Dr. Chris Mackie resigns as London, Ont.'s top doctor, saying it's 'time for a new chapter'

Chris Mackie, London, Ont.'s top doctor, has resigned as the medical officer of health with the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU). Mackie had been on a leave of absence since mid-November.

Middlesex-London Health Unit cites pursuit of other opportunities as reason for Mackie's departure

Dr. Chris Mackie has resigned as chief medical officer of health with the Middlesex-London Health Unit. He was hired as medical officer of health and chief executive officer in 2013, and served both roles until July 2020, when he stepped away from his duties as CEO. (Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press)

After a four-month unexplained absence, London, Ont.'s top doctor, Chris Mackie, has resigned from the role of medical officer of health with the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU).

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Mackie said "personal changes" at home meant he "started the pandemic with less energy than (he) would have liked," and by the time he took a leave of absence four months ago, he needed a break. 

"The past four months have given me time to recover, and to consider my future. After speaking with my family and a number of close friends and advisers, as well as with the Board of Health, it was clear that the time was right for a new chapter in my career," Mackie said, adding he regrets not being able to help during most of the Omicron wave of COVID-19. 

Mackie declined a request for an interview with CBC News. 

In a brief statement Monday morning, the health unit said Mackie resigned last Friday, citing the pursuit of other opportunities as the reason for his departure.

"In his nine years with MLHU, Dr. Mackie contributed to many successful initiatives, not the least of which has been the successful public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic in London and Middlesex County, and an effective and efficient immunization campaign," the statement said. 

Mackie took to social media shortly after the news was made public, writing a lengthy Twitter post to his more than 17,000 followers, thanking the community for their role supporting public health measures implemented during his time in the position.

On Twitter, Mackie cites vaccination efforts and the overall work of MLHU staff during the pandemic that saw lower than average death rates. He also points to the introduction of a supervised consumption site and the work still underway to treat people addicted to opioids.

Mackie also writes directly to staff and the MLHU's senior leadership for continuing to do "great things."

"These nine years have been intense. Together, we have accomplished so much! Some highlights for me were implementing leading budget processes, saving lives with supervised consumption services, and of course, making it through the first two years of the pandemic."

Mackie had been absent from the medical officer of health role since mid-November, when he took an abrupt leave of absence, the details of which have not been made public. 

Earlier this year, CBC News learned the MLHU had spent $135,000 in the last four years investigating workplace harassment or toxic workplace claims. The details surrounding who was involved in these investigations remains confidential. 

Documents showed that in 2020 alone, the MLHU paid almost $70,000 to a London law firm that focuses exclusively on workplace conflict and employs investigators and lawyers who deal with workplace harassment, violence, discrimination, bullying and human rights abuses. 

Mackie was hired as medical officer of health and chief executive officer of the health unit in 2013. He served both roles until July 2020, when he stepped away from his duties as CEO. Earlier this year, Emily Williams was appointed to the role. 

Up until last November, Mackie led the city through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, issuing public health directives, establishing vaccine strategies and speaking publicly on a near daily basis as the pandemic evolved. 

Officials with the health unit said Dr. Alex Summers will continue to serve as acting medical officer of health as the board of health determines next steps. 

Workers wait to hear who will be permanent leader

During Mackie's nearly four-month absence from the role, employees of the health unit expressed frustration over the lack of a permanent leader, said Steve Holland, president of CUPE 101, which represents about 300 health unit.

"They're glad that this has come to a resolution because this has been hanging over their heads for some time ... but I think that finalizing if Dr. Summers is going to continue running the ship would be very important to them," Holland told CBC News, adding that Mackie's departure comes as no surprise. 

"I think that both (Summers) and Emily [Williams] have done a good job. I think people are hoping that they're going to lead this organization through this and into better times."