- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

Dr. Arra has said more than once that local media, including the Owen Sound Hub, had saved lives by publishing more than 500 Covid-related information pieces from Grey-Bruce Public Health this past year. We'd like to believe we have been doing our job.

At last Monday's Owen Sound city council meeting Arra said that anyone asking any questions concerning Grey-Bruce Public Health is undermining it and putting lives at risk.

We respectfully disagree.

We do agree with his opinion that the people of Grey-Bruce are smart enough to ask questions and make their own assessment of the facts. For the past week, we at the Hub have been asking questions and assembling facts.

We published the letter to the Board of Health from four area councillors/citizens last Monday night because we had just watched a half-hour rebuttal, by Chair Sue Paterson and Dr. Arra, of what a council-watcher would assume were the letter's contents. We needed to let that viewer read it for themselves.

Ms. Paterson reiterated her statement from the public Board of Health meeting of March 26th that Dr. Arra's overtime remuneration reflected the fact that there was no one to whom he could delegate any of his legislated responsibilities for being on-call 24/7.

We have asked Ms. Paterson to clarify to whom those responsibilities were delegated when Dr. Arra was out of the country in late February, early March 2020. The only record we can find is the media release about Covid precautions signed by the Acting Associate Medical Officer of Health for Grey-Bruce, Dr.Linna Li, on March 4.  Dr. Li is referred to in a January 2020 media release as Associate Medical Officer of Health.

Dr. Arra's presentation included slides describing some of the work of Public Health during the pandemic, and a survey showing the public's strong support. He then described verbally his “Issues of Concern” in response to the letter which the mayor had ruled could not be read into the record.

You can read for yourself that the councillors have neither stated not implied that there is corruption in the Health Unit. That is Dr. Arra's choice of language. They do ask questions about perceived “organizational dysfunction” related to staff turnover. The organizational chart for the Health Unit was removed from their website earlier this year and  we cannot verify at this time who is filling some key manager and director roles. We continue to research this.

Nor is there anything in the letter that suggests that Dr. Arra is “in it for the money”, yet he gave multiple examples at Monday's meeting of how he could have made more money in other medical specialities. As proof that “anyone in public health doesn't know what money is...and doesn't care what money is” he showed slides of job offers he says could have netted him $2000 an hour or more.

Dr. Arra made two statements which caught the attention of local physicians.

Dr. Arra said that “across the water from the Health Unit, at the Family Health Team, or any Family Health Team, I could do a locum, one weekend – Saturday-Sunday - $10,000.”

Ruth Lovell-Stanners spoke on the Round Table on CFOS Wednesday morning to correct that misinformation. She said that her husband, Dr. Bruce Stanners of the Family Health Team, pays $140 per hour for a replacement physician if he goes away.

We confirmed from that one of the Team doctors is at the office every Saturday, in rotation – the office is closed on Sunday - and they would not use a locum for their Saturday work. While there are different billing models for Family Health Teams in the province, we could not find any source for this $10,000 figure in any FHT.

Dr. Arra said if you know family doctors in Long-Term Care “working there – they make $800 (thousand) a year and pay 13% tax – one-three – not 50%.” Neither the Ontario Medical Association nor the Ministry of Health had any explanation for where Dr. Arra might have come up with this figure. Nor could we find any source for the tax claim other than the possibility of a skilled accountant's use of legal tax shelters and havens.

Local physicians generally work two mornings a week at Long-Term Care residences and Grey County, which runs three LTC residences, does not employ doctors. One source said, “If LTC paid anything remotely close to this amount, we would have no difficulty finding and retaining physicians.”

Publicly misrepresenting and inflating salary figures for other doctors was described by one source as a “slap in the face” to local family physicians, and by another as “an insult to lower-waged frontline long-term care workers we are trying so desperately to find and keep.”

Public Health did not respond to our request for clarification of “colleagues” in Dr. Arra's statement that his colleagues did not work after 4, and “do not work weekends, they just don't.” He himself said he conferred with another Medical Officer of Health during a weekend evening incident involving the transfer of an individual from another Health Unit, so in fact that colleague was working.

We have been unable to find any Health Unit in Ontario where the MOH has not been working evenings and weekends since last spring, confirmed by elected representatives, media reports and community partners in those regions.

In the same weekend case Dr. Arra said he asked his own Public Health staff to gather information after-hours. Some managers and senior staff at Grey Bruce Public Health had remuneration from 9% to 20% higher in 2020 which included overtime pay.

If he was referring to medical colleagues beyond Public Health, we spoke to a sufficient sample to confirm that they have neither consistently closed their doors nor turned off their phones after 4 p.m. during this pandemic.

Salaries of physicians, including Medical Officers of Health, and stipends for overtime and added responsibilities, are set by the Ministry of Health in negotiation with the Ontario Medical Association. Special Covid-related funding was also provided by the Ministry of Health.MOHsalarygrid


Dr. Arra's closing remarks were a paraphrase of a line from Jack Nicholson's character in “A Few Good Men”. He asked how anyone could, “while they rise and sleep under the blanket of safety my board, myself and my team provide, allow themselves to question how this blanket of safety is provided.”

We have heard no one criticizing the local handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, nor are we.

At the Owen Sound Hub we have been receiving fair and honest questions about governance, remuneration and the loss of tenured staff at the Health Unit. Since last Monday, we have received concerns about Dr. Arra's characterization of the commitment and pay of his  colleagues and other doctors, and specifically his use of violent flamethrower imagery.

We anticipate questions will continue. We also expect that the excellent work of staff and volunteers will mean orderly vaccinations and strong community respect for public health directives  will continue until the risks from this pandemic are over.