SAULT STE. MARIE -- After four years as the Medical Officer of Health for Algoma Public Health, Dr. Marlene Spryut is stepping down as the MOH and CEO of the organization at the end of the year.

She was originally planning on retiring earlier but decided to stay on.

"When I planned this retirement it was before the pandemic and we had travelling plans for this fall. So they’ve all been put on hold which allowed me to stay a little bit longer and support the board in a longer recruitment process," said Dr. Spryut.

She describes the past four years as a constant challenge because there's been constant change.

During her time in the Sault, the provincial government has made three major changes to public health.

"I arrived and the ministry had implemented new public health standards. For which we had to re-organize the entire organization around. Shortly after that there was the expert panel of public health that talked about shifting us out of the LHIN and we responded to that," said Dr. Spryut.

Then the current government took over and cuts were made.

"With the new conservative government there was the other initiative to modernize public health which would look at narrowing us down to 10 health units," she continued.

"Things were running smoothly so funding got reduced and reduced and now we’re recognizing why way back during in the SARS issue, they recognize that public health needed to be more substantially funded with better capacity."

Dr. Spryut said those changes had an impact on how the pandemic is being handled. 

She added that it's hard to attract people to move to the Algoma region for jobs when the province is only giving funding for short term contracts and hopes that will change in the future. 

When she took over the job, Dr. Spryut says the organization was under a black cloud as it was still dealing with the fall out from the Dr. Kim Barker scandal that saw her abruptly resign.

Dr. Spryut said she is proud for how she was able to help change the reputation of APH within the community. 

Taking over will be Dr. Jennifer Loo. She is the current assistant MOH for APH. She believes the affects of COVID will be around for a while and says it cannot wait to pickup where it left off in terms of its other health priorities in the region.

"The issue of the opioids crisis. It has actually gotten worse this year. We’ve already had 26 deaths in Algoma from January to June. And that compares to our worst year in 2018 when we had 26 deaths in the entire year," said Dr. Loo. 

With the pandemic on going and the opioid crisis at an all time high in the region, we asked Dr. Loo why would she want this job?  

"I’m a public health doctor and having been here in Algoma for the past three years, I love these communities. There’s no other place I would rather be and the team here at APH has been so incredible and dedicated," said Dr. Loo.

"I can’t think of a better team and a better place to work and public health is what I love and it’s what I want to med school to do."

Dr. Loo takes over as the Medical Officer of Health and Chief Executive Officer on Jan. 1, 2021.