Despite years of trying, Ontario has failed to fill nearly one-third of the province’s top public health jobs, leaving communities from York Region to Timiskaming without permanent medical officers of health.


Critics charge the public health system wouldn’t have enough qualified people in place to fight a health-care crisis such as a flu pandemic or another SARS. Eleven of Ontario’s 36 health units do not have specially trained, full-time medical officers of health. They have acting officers, with a few upgrading their education to possibly take over.


Public health units handle everything from fighting infectious disease outbreaks to inspecting premises where food is served.


Whether or not the vacancies become a larger public health problem depends on what shows up on the horizon, said Dr. Janice Willett, the Ontario Medical Association’s new president.


“Problem is, we don’t always get to predict when the next E. coli outbreak will be or (in) what community,” said Willett.

Outback disaster

  • Seven years ago, an E. coli outbreak in Walkerton’s water supply killed seven people. Many say cutbacks to the province’s public health infrastructure contributed to the disaster.