The health unit staff and the work they do is what makes Dr. Jim Chirico the proudest as he looks back on his time as Medical Officer of Health.
After taking over in 2009, his last working day in the role is Friday, May 12.
Dr. Chirico says the staff accomplished so much over the years and always stepped up, especially over COVID.
“We had to redeploy so many people to do so many different jobs and they never complained. They just did what needed to be done,” he says. “In my estimation, that’s the thing I’m most proud of, the staff. They saved lives. The work that they did was certainly incredible.”
After moving from acute care to public health, Dr. Chirico, an anesthesiologist, says when he first started his initial goal was to learn as much as he could.
He says he found a better perspective on the bigger picture, with public health dealing with populations rather than one patient at a time in acute care.
“What I have learned is that the majority of the solutions for people to be healthy and have a healthy well-being and life lies outside of medicine. It’s all the social determinants of health,” he says. “You have to make sure people have enough food to eat. That they have shelter. That they have a basic income. That they have the education. They need those kinds of tools in the proper environment, otherwise, they’re never going to be healthy.”
Looking ahead, challenges for public health include defining its role and what the government decides.
“I think funding is going to be a huge issue and whether or not they decide to restructure public health and what it’s going to look like,” he says. “Emergency preparedness for the next pandemic is important but I think the biggest challenge and what we need to focus on in public health is that upstream preventative approach and dealing with the social determinants of health.”
He says the pandemic was proof of that.
“What we saw during the pandemic became far more visible that those that are the most vulnerable in society, they’re the ones that suffer the most. They were the ones that didn’t have the social system and health equity was a huge problem,” Dr. Chirico says. “Unless we really address those fundamental concerns, we’re going to repeat history.”
Dr. Chirico says it needs to stop and politicians need to think beyond a four-year election cycle to a long-term preventative approach to those issues.
After he packs up his office Friday at the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit building on Oak Street in North Bay, he will officially retire in July.
“I’m looking forward to relaxing and spending time with family and friends and doing some travelling,” Dr. Chirico says.
Dr. Carol Zimbalatti, the Health Unit’s current Associate Medical Officer of Health becomes Acting Medical Officer of Health starting May 12.