Region health executives in Whitby and across Durham take COVID to the bank with massive salary bumps in 2021

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Published October 19, 2022 at 2:12 pm

The COVID-19 virus cost the people of Durham Region a lot, beginning with the 511 lives lost since the pandemic was declared more than two-and-a-half years ago.

But it has also cost Durham taxpayers a bundle when it comes to the salaries of mid and high level executives in the Region’s Health Department, with five executives alone earning $866,765 in raises in 2021.

The numbers are courtesy of the Ontario Sunshine List, who details the annual pay packet of all government employees making more than $100,000 a year. There are more than 1,700 Region of Durham employees on the list, with their wage increases last year averaging 4.1 per cent.

But health department officials were granted exorbitant raises in 2021, with some seeing their salaries more than doubled from 2020. This is while frontline healthcare workers on the provincial government’s dime have their wage increases capped at one per cent.

Dr. Robert Kyle, Durham’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, enjoyed a whopping $167,502 bump in his salary from 2020 to 2021, a 58.7 per cent increase that brings his annual hit to $535,190, with another nearly $8,800 in benefits.

Dr. Robert Kyle, Durham’s Chief Medical Officer of Health

Durham’s Corporate Communications department released a statement on the pay hikes claiming “this was not a salary increase” and insisting some perspective is needed.

“The earnings reported for 2021 included the monitored and approved COVID overtime from both 2020 and 2021 combined with the base annual salary,” the statement read. “Work undertaken by Health Department staff included case and contact management; outbreak management; carrying out public health measures; public health advice and communications; testing and surveillance; 911 paramedic response; and more.”

Kyle, who has been with the Region for 26 years, saw mostly small annual raises since 1996 and one big jump of 31.1 per cent in 2009 that pushed his annual wages to $284,118. He also took two small pay cuts in that period, including a 4.8 per cent decrease in 2010, the year following his big raise.

His last cut was in 2017 (2.5 per cent), three years before COVID struck and four years before his recent wage hike.

Elspeth McTavish, Durham’s Associate Medical Officer of Health, had an even better day when the salary increases were announced. Her 2020 salary of $246,774 spiked 87.9 per cent to $463,598 – that’s a raise of $216,824, the biggest individual increase on the list.

With inflation clipping along at about seven per cent (and hourly wages across the country rising about 5.2 per cent this year) some salary increases are to be expected with Durham Region staff, from parks employees to senior executives. But the wage packages awarded to senior staff – particularly in the health department – in 2021 were hard to fathom, overtime hours notwithstanding.

Prior to last year the highest salary ever at the Region was former CEO Garry Cubitt’s 2018 annual wage of $354,915, so Kyle’s 2022 salary makes that look like chump change. Current CEO Elaine Baxter-Trahair currently makes $315,499, one per cent less than she made in 2020.

Meanwhile, Kavine Thangaraj, Durham’s Director, Population Health and Chief Nursing Officer, saw his salary more than double from 2020 when he was promoted from Assistant Director. Thangaraj went from $156,623 to his 2021-2022 salary of $324, 125.

Jean Nesbitt, who holds the same title as Thangaraj, enjoyed an 82.3 per cent bump in her wages last year, going from $172,284 in 2020 to $314,139 today.

Lisa Fortuna, the Director, Health Protection at Durham Region, saw her salary increase from $174,398 to $316,934, an 81.7 per cent bump.

Those salary bumps are justified, the statement from Corporate Communications continued, because employees attached to Durham’s Health Department, along with support staff and regional partners, “played a central role” in preventing, controlling and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic since the beginning of the pandemic in the spring of 2020.

“Throughout the pandemic, the Health Department, along with other Regional departments, monitored and approved overtime hours for COVID tracking, response and clinical work. The work of our Public Health staff in responding to the COVID pandemic for well over two years was part of the eligible expenses defined and approved for funding by the Provincial Government.”

Middle managers in healthcare roles at the Region of Durham also saw major pay increases. Glendene Collins, who is the Manager, Community & Resource Development, actually had the biggest percentage increase of them all as her 2020 salary of $117,723 spiked all the way up to $294,561 in 2021, a massive jump of 150.2 per cent.

Rebekah Mills, Assistant Manager, Health Protection, also enjoyed a huge jump, with her wages increasing 135.45 per cent from $131,155 to $308,798.

Other major salary jumps from the Health Department include Michelle Martin, Manager Health Protection (100.22 per cent to $239,330); Paula Hanley, Manager Population Health (92.7 per cent to $277,662); Jessica Jenkins, Manager Population Health (75.9 per cent to $252,833); Brenda Kwan, Manager Health Protection (76.2 per cent to $251,264); and Michelle Brolly, Assistant Manager, Population Health (87.9 per cent to ($245,996).

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