Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province terminates contract of chief public health officer

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THE province has parted ways with its chief public health officer, Dr. Joel Kettner.

Kettner, perhaps best known for his frequent updates to Manitobans during the H1N1 flu scare in 2009, was terminated on Jan. 11.

Milton Sussman, Manitoba's deputy minister of health, said the province exercised an option in Kettner's contract that allows either party to end the relationship early. The contract wasn't due to expire until March 31, 2014.

Sussman would not say why the province made the decision. "It is difficult for me to talk about it because it has been an internal personnel discussion. And I am not really free to discuss it," he said from Toronto, where he was attending a meeting.

Kettner is being replaced on an acting basis by Dr. Margaret Fast, a longtime public health official. She began work on Monday.

Reached late Tuesday, Kettner said he was "somewhat surprised" by the termination. He declined to discuss whether he had been given an explanation by government.

But he did say the province had acted "legally" within the terms of his contract. "The letter that I got says quite clearly that I've been terminated under the section of my contract, which relates to being terminated without cause."

A father of six, Kettner was raised in Winnipeg's North End and obtained his medical degree from the University of Manitoba in 1976. He has worked as an emergency room doctor, trained as a general surgeon and received a master's degree in epidemiology from the University of London in the 1980s and a certificate in community medicine from the U of M in 1991.

He then worked as a medical officer of health in rural and northern Manitoba before his appointment as provincial chief medical officer of health in 1999 and later as Manitoba's first chief provincial public health officer in July 2007.

According to the 2010-11 Manitoba public accounts, Kettner earned $385,058 last year.

While working as a public health officer, he has maintained ties with the U of M, serving as an assistant professor in the faculty of medicine's departments of community health and surgery. The university's website lists him under "full-time faculty," but Kettner said the role took up "a very small proportion" of his time and was not a source of friction between himself and the province.

Fast will serve in an acting capacity while the province recruits a new chief provincial public health officer.

Fast most recently served as scientific director at the National Collaborating Centre on Infectious Diseases in Winnipeg and associate professor at the University of Manitoba. She was also once the medical officer of health for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

"She's very well-known to the medical officers of health across the province and has worked extensively with virtually all of them," Sussman said.

Meanwhile, Kettner said he would like to see his role expand at the U of M. And he wants to continue to work in the public health field -- his passion for more than two decades. He said he would be happy to assist government as an adviser or consultant.

"I am not leaving on any terms that would prevent that, from my point of view," he said Tuesday.

Kettner said he wanted to express his appreciation to the many people he's worked with in government, "especially my staff and especially the wonderful team of public health officials, medical officers of health, public health nurses and public health inspectors... None of the work that I ever did that was of any use to Manitobans was without a tremendous amount of collaboration and assistance."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2012 A3

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