Medical officer of health defends MLHU’s move after county council highlights ‘appalling’ photos

The former Middlesex-London Health Unit building at King and Ridout streets in London, Ont., June 2017. Matthew Trevithick/980 CFPL

A move five years in the making is now complete, but the aftermath has the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) on the defensive.

Kelly Elliott, the deputy mayor of Thames Centre who also sits on the Middlesex-London Board of Health, says Middlesex County Council received an album of 284 photos on Monday from the assessment tour of 50 King Street after the health unit completed its move from that location to Citi Plaza.

READ MORE: Judge clears the way for MLHU move into Citi Plaza in downtown London

She says the health unit left behind innumerable items, including: board room tables, easels, projectors, smart boards, filing cabinets, desks, office chairs, laptops, hard drives, computer monitors, wireless microphones, printers, baby scales, kids’ programming activities, and “heaps and heaps and hallways of garbage.”

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“It was appalling to say the very least. For over a year now Middlesex County council has asked very pointed questions to health unit staff on making sure they re-purpose as much as possible to save cost,” Elliott said on The Craig Needles Show on Wednesday morning.

“Seeing the photos and seeing what was left? That did not happen. I know there was some points made by the health unit staff that there was some things that they couldn’t take, that it was cheaper to just buy new, which is fair — I know that they couldn’t take everything, we didn’t expect them to take everything — but there was a lot left that could have been re-purposed.”

Office furnishings left behind at 50 King St. via Middlesex County Council/YouTube

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie, however, argues that the health unit made deliberate choices with a focus on long-term benefits.

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“We reduced the overall square footage of the health unit from 85,000 square feet down to 68,000 square feet, reduced it by about 20 per cent. Of course not all the old furniture is going to fit into the new environment,” Mackie told Needles in an interview following Elliott’s.

“We’re saving $200,000 a year in taxpayer money in lease costs. It’s really a balance. That was the case with every single decision we had to make.

“Could we have squeezed some more things in? Yes. It would have come at a cost of our staff time — which is a taxpayer cost — and of efficiency over the long run, which is a major taxpayer cost over the 30-year life expectancy of this lease.”

Mackie added that he understands that photos showing what was left behind “could get people concerned,” but he says trying to move what was left behind would have increased moving costs and increased costs in the long run due to using “inefficient furniture, equipment, technology.”

“It’s a project we’ve been working on, blood, sweat, and tears for five years. We were very proud to bring it in well under budget and right on time,” he said.

“Many people put a lot of their lives into making sure that decisions were made right. The process that we had was world class.”

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However, Elliott also raised concerns about communication with the health unit, stressing that the move itself could have been extended if only the health unit had asked.

“In full disclosure, Middlesex County has sold that property. It doesn’t close anytime in the next couple months and I know the comment was made, the intent is for it to be demolished, we know that. We didn’t ask for it to be left in pristine condition, we told them ‘you don’t have to fix anything.’ We didn’t expect for hundreds of thousands of dollars of furniture, supplies, heaps of garbage, all that,” she said.

“There was no communication with county council or county staff in order to extend it. We would’ve been more than happy knowing the climate that we’re in, if they needed additional time we could’ve worked something out.”

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READ MORE: Middlesex County defends high Land Ambulance costs in upcoming budget

Elliott says the county will find ways to re-purpose what was left behind, but notes that the county now owns furniture that was effectively paid for by London taxpayers.

She also noted concerns over discarded laptops, hard drives, printers, and cell phones and what information could be stored on those items.

“The fact that it was left for us puts a lot of liability on us.”

An example of electronic equipment left behind at 50 King St. via Middlesex County Council/YouTube

But when asked about whether those items had been wiped prior to being discarded, Mackie told Needles, “I think you probably know the answer to that question, Craig: it’s a basic part of health work that you protect personal health information and all personal information that might be sensitive.

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“All of that equipment was definitely wiped.”

Mackie says the health unit also held “garage sales” of sorts where they raised about $8,000.

Elliott stressed, however, that her criticisms should not detract from the  work the health unit is doing in regards to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“The health unit is doing a great job when it comes to COVID. They do amazing things in our community. This does not take away from those facts,” Elliott said.

“I highly respect all of the work that they do and I will continue to, but it’s okay to be critical of certain things.”

Mackie thanked Elliott for her remarks and also stressed that the decisions the health unit has made in terms of moving to new equipment and technology has allowed for “90 to 95 per cent” of its staff “depending on the day” to work remotely.

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