Believing co-operation with other partners will be key in the months and years ahead, Chatham-Kent’s new medical officer of health is hoping an all-hands-on-deck approach will help improve outcomes in the community.
Dr. Mario Kangeswaren, who stepped into the role in late August, took part in a virtual media availability on Sept. 21 to address the next steps and his vision for the region’s public health.
He said he believes the people already involved with the public health agency remain an asset, noting their efforts since the COVID-19 pandemic began two years ago.
“We have a really hard-working and dedicated team,” he said. “There were staff that were working extra hours, time they could have spent watching their children grow up.”
Former medical officer of health Dr. David Colby retired earlier this year, with Kangeswaren crediting his predecessor for running a “tight ship.”
To date, Kangeswaren has taken part in an in-depth orientation process within the health unit, as well as the municipality and the community as a whole.
This process has included a variety of introductions, meetings and off-site excursions to better familiarize himself with local organizations, groups and stakeholders.
Kangeswaren said he’s continuing to work with staff to develop his public-health priorities, with further details to come.
“We are having a new strategy coming out … something in the works this fall,” he said. “(We’re) taking a closer assessment of what’s going on with the community and what our real priorities are moving forward.”
As for the opioid crisis plaguing Chatham-Kent and other jurisdictions, he expects ongoing engagement with partners will help formulate a community-wide strategy.
Continued co-operation with school boards on the issues of pandemic health and vaccination is also important, he added.
Kangeswaren, who said he’s enjoying his time in Chatham-Kent so far, received his medical degree from Saba University in the Netherlands more than a decade ago.
He has a Master’s degree in family medicine from McGill University and a Master’s in public health from the University of Waterloo.
He has practiced in different communities across Canada and the US, including rural areas, urban centers and Indigenous communities.
He recently worked with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Sudbury for the public health and preventative medicine group, which included residences with different health units across the province.
April Rietdyk, general manager of community human services, said Kangeswaren is technically considered an acting medical officer of health since only the province has the authority to appoint a permanent individual to the role, which it does after the necessary documentation is reviewed.
“All medical officers of health are hired into an acting role,” she said. “That’s why we still see some acting MOHs in some of our neighboring communities as well.”
Given Kangeswaren’s extensive experience and people skills, Rietdyk said she believes Chatham-Kent is in good hands.
“We hope we have him here for a long, long time,” she said.