Man wearing suit smiles at camera green grass behind him

Doctor Robert Cushman and the Renfrew County and District Health Unit received the United Way East Ontario’s Community Builder of the Year Award (CBYA). (Submitted by the United Way)

United Way celebrates efforts of public health officers

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday November 18, 2021

Doctor Robert Cushman and the Renfrew County and District Health Unit (RCDHU) were recognized for their efforts during the pandemic with a United Way East Ontario’s Community Builder of the Year Award (CBYA).

Dr Cushman and the RCDHU, Doctor Paul Roumeliotis and the Eastern Ontario Health Unit , Doctor Vera Etches and the Ottawa Public Health, and Doctor Paula Stewart and the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit were celebrated during the “This is Community” virtual event on Oct. 5.

Even before the pandemic hit, all four public health authorities recognized the complex impacts of poverty, systemic racism, discrimination, and unequal access to information and care on health outcomes. However, with COVID-19, they truly became guiding voices for public health, providing care and supporting the most marginalized people to ensure a better outcome for all.

“During this difficult time, we have seen some of the most inspiring change makers but also the incredible spirit of generosity and care that exist to help those that are most in need in times of crisis and beyond,” said co-host Stefan Keys.

Locally, Dr Cushman has proven himself countless times as a leader and expert in public health. He took to the RCDHU’s Youtube channel and social media to provide updates, and he has been tireless in encouraging people to get the vaccine. He also pointed out the pandemic’s significant impact on schooling and the community’s mental health. He advocates making these services stronger.

“We have a remarkable team and we have done great work in the past 18 months and we have always been committed to (solving) social inequities in our area,” said Dr Cushman. “... The entire health care sector has come together like never before during the pandemic to see us through.”

He noted the allied social services in the county have also been invaluable.

Supported by their dedicated staff, all four medical officers demonstrated leadership and tenacity in keeping people healthy and safe during some of the most challenging times in modern history.

“They have played a pivotal role in the public health responses in both the community and national levels by delivering credible, timely and relevant public health advice to their community during a highly complex, evolving and unpredictable period,” said Doctor Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.

In addition, these four doctors have been working on the ongoing challenges that disproportionately affect certain people.

“Neighbourhoods with low-income, racialized and newcomers have nearly twice the number of COVID-19 infection rates,” said Dr Tam.

Every year, the United Way honours community members for their contributions in making their neighbourhoods stronger, safer and healthier.

“It really has been a privilege to be part of the community builder program this way,” said co-host Suzanne Pinel. “Can you imagine how lucky I am, we are, to have the opportunity to meet so many diverse, interesting and passionate people in our community?”

In addition to the public health award recipients, 22 individuals and organizations  were honoured at the  virtual  event for their community contributions. Their names will be added to the Walls of Inspiration in Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark, and Renfrew Counties.