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Health unit finds new medical officer, CEO

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The Northwestern Health Unit announced late yesterday it has found a new medical officer of health to replace Dr. Pete Sarsfield, who retires Dec. 31.

Fort Frances Coun. John Albanese, who also is chair of the Northwestern Health Unit’s board of health, said yesterday that Dr. Monika Dutt has accepted the board’s offer of employment as its new medical officer of health and chief executive officer, pending approval by the provincial government through an order-in-council.

Dr. Dutt officially will be starting in the summer since she is finishing her final year in the Community Medicine Research Program at the University of Toronto, but has agreed to be acting medical officer of health starting Jan. 1, coinciding with the departure of Dr. Sarsfield.

Coun. Albanese said Dr. Dutt has obtained her Doctorate of Medicine from Queen’s University and is registered by the Canadian College of Family Physicians.

She has practised emergency medicine both in Ontario (including Northern Ontario) and around the world.

Dr. Dutt also has obtained her Masters of Public Health and Masters of Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University.

She currently is finishing her public health placements, which have included Peel Public Health, Durham Region Public Health, and the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care.

“At this time, I would also like to express my sincere thanks to Dr. Sarsfield for his 13 years of service to the Northwestern Health Unit and for his continuing support to Dr. Dutt as she makes the transition to becoming our full-time medical officer of health and chief executive officer,” said Coun. Albanese.

A Northwestern Health Unit hiring committee conducted several interviews last Wednesday and Thursday, and afterwards decided to make Dr. Dutt an offer, which she accepted yesterday.

Dr. Sarsfield first announced his retirement in January, after which time the health unit board began contacting some of his associates, who were medical officers of health elsewhere, to try and “lure them” to Northwestern Ontario for the job.

“We tried one, and then we tried another one, and then we tried another one,” noted Coun. Albanese. “Finally, in July, we decided to start advertising nationally.”

The deadline for applications was Nov. 16, said Coun. Albanese, adding the board was thrilled to get six or seven applicants for the position.

“We were lucky to get so many people interested in the position,” he said.

“Personally, we were very excited about the amount of people applying for the job because we’ve got 36 health units in the province of Ontario and we’ve currently got eight or nine health units without a [medical officer of health].

“It’s hard to attract MOHs. I don’t know why,” Coun. Albanese added. “Maybe they’re a dying breed? Maybe they’d make more money doing a doctor’s job?”

Dr. Sarsfield, who’s been the CEO and medical officer of health for the Northwestern Health Unit for nearly 14 years, likely will remain in the Kenora and Winnipeg area for a while after his retirement to lend a hand if he’s needed, noted Coun. Albanese.

In an interview back in February, Dr. Sarsfield said he’s found his job very satisfying over the years, but after working 60-80 hours a week, and spending sometimes half the year travelling across the region and back-and-forth to Toronto, he is suffering from both physical and emotional fatigue.

As for life after retirement, Dr. Sarsfield—a published author—said he’s going to focus on his writing “at least 75 percent of the time,” but may do some consulting work on the side.

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