Norfolk and Haldimand’s medical officer of health has a good chance of being at the top of the local leader board when the province publishes its Sunshine List for 2020.
Norfolk and Haldimand’s board of health emerged from closed session on Feb. 24 to pass a resolution granting Dr. Shanker Nesathurai a $160,000 “top up” for overtime hours logged last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Including Nesathurai’s base salary of $240,000, Nesathurai’s gross income for the year will be at or near $400,000.
Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp, chair of the board of health, is disappointed with the top-up program but endorsed the payment to Nesathurai in a unanimous vote. Chopp said the timing of the program is unfortunate and will likely cause resentment in some quarters.
“I want to be clear that — while I respect Dr. Nesathurai — I personally do not agree with a payment of this size to anyone,” Chopp said on Feb. 25. “But — as a result of contractual language — our board of health wasn’t left with much of a choice.
“This is not unique to Norfolk. The Ford government has been doling out payments to medical officers of health across the province to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. I don’t think that is fair to all our other staff members that have shouldered additional responsibilities throughout this pandemic or the taxpayers of Ontario that have lost their jobs as a result of restrictions that have been imposed upon them. There certainly are winners and losers that are emerging from this pandemic and it isn’t right.”
The Ministry of Health asked boards of health last year to track and submit extraordinary hours logged by non-union staff working on the pandemic file. The ministry issued grants to ensure staff was adequately compensated for its efforts. Chopp emphasized that local tax dollars are not part of this program.
With the province soliciting reports on overtime, Nesathurai put in for 1,060 hours. The $160,000 top-up suggests the medical officer’s time is rated at about $150 an hour.
In a second resolution – also unanimously approved — the board of health apportioned $102,000 in provincial money for overtime hours submitted by 10 unnamed non-union employees of the health unit.
Local MPP Toby Barrett was not aware of the Ministry of Health’s top-up program when contacted. Come what may, Barrett said authorities have a responsibility during a pandemic emergency to keep the machinery of government operating. That, he said, includes fair compensation for highly-skilled professionals for logging the hours necessary to bring the COVID-19 crisis to a successful conclusion.
“I’m a Reagan conservative,” Barrett said, referring to his preference for small government with minimal intrusions into the lives of citizens.
“But if ever there was a need for government, it is now. This is probably the most significant event in my lifetime, and so you do turn to government. My office does not even refer calls to the health unit anymore. We know how busy they are.”
Barrett added front-line workers of all stripes have been shouldering the burden of this pandemic for close to a year.
Along with health-care workers, he cited those employed in the agricultural and food sector, retailing, seniors care, transportation, and heavy industries such as steel-making and refining. All, he said, are taking risks to keep society functioning in circumstances that threaten their health.