GSL Senior Investigator, Patrick Fafard, was sought out by The Toronto Star to provide insights on a recent development involving Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, and Matthew Anderson, president and CEO of Ontario Health. Their decision to cancel an interview with the Star has raised concerns and shed light on the complex dynamics of communication in the realm of public health.
In the midst of December, when emergency departments were overwhelmed by patients suffering from RSV, COVID-19, and influenza, The Toronto Star seized the opportunity to interview two prominent figures in Ontario’s healthcare leadership.
According to government spokespeople, the interview with Dr. Kieran Moore and Matthew Anderson aimed to address the “layers of protection” needed for the holiday season and shed light on the current strains facing the healthcare system. However, to the disappointment of the Star’s Kenyon Wallace, the interview never materialized. Just minutes after its scheduled time on December 15, Wallace received an email informing him of the cancellation due to a claimed “scheduling conflict.”
Government emails obtained through freedom-of-information legislation by The Toronto Star revealed that the decision to cancel the interview was made by the director of communications for Health Minister Sylvia Jones. It appears that the dissatisfaction stemmed from Wallace’s involvement as the interviewer. These internal email exchanges provide a glimpse into the decision-making process regarding communication during a health crisis. Experts in governance, ethics, and journalism have raised concerns about the extent of communication control exerted over the office of the chief medical officer and the public’s access to health leaders during such critical times.
According to these experts, the email exchanges highlight an ongoing tension between political and bureaucratic interests and the need for independent, non-partisan health communications. They caution that if public health messaging is perceived to be influenced by political considerations, it could undermine public trust.
Patrick Fafard, expert on chief medical officers, shared his perspective on the matter. Fafard emphasizes the multifaceted nature of the chief medical officer’s role, which encompasses advising the government, overseeing public health priorities as a senior public servant, serving as the primary communicator to the public, and increasingly acting as a government spokesperson. Fafard points out that these various roles do not always align perfectly, leading to tensions and potential contradictions, especially during a public health crisis.
While Fafard does not deem the communication in the emails as “inappropriate,” he highlights that the close coordination depicted therein is inconsistent with the public’s perception of the chief medical officer’s role. This tension has prompted calls for provincial governments to clarify the responsibilities and expectations of the chief medical officer.
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