New provincial health officer starts next week


British Columbia will have a new provincial health officer.

Dr. Perry Kendall, who has held the post since 1999 is retiring on January 31.

Deputy provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has been appointed as the first woman in the role of provincial health officer.

Henry is uniquely positioned to step into the role, with a career that includes tackling a wide variety of public-health concerns and challenges within Canada and abroad. These include supporting the STOP polio program in Pakistan in 2000; working with the World Health Organization on the Ebola outbreak in Uganda in 2001; and, as associate medical officer of health for the City of Toronto, leading the operational response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in the city in 2003.

“Dr. Henry has hands-on experience in managing large-scale public-health issues both internationally and here in B.C.,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix, in a press release. “She has a consistent approach with providing straightforward information to the public on the risks of Zika, or air quality, to controlling issues that affect families daily, like influenza. With Dr. Henry, we have a direct and experienced advisor to steer and improve public health in our province.”

Henry was appointed deputy provincial health officer in August 2014. In this role, she has guided the province through the worst wildfire season in decades, which affected air quality; guided the B.C. response to the West African Ebola outbreak, advised on the H7N9 bird flu in B.C., provided guidance on travelling in Zika-affected areas; and provided leadership on the overdose crisis.

She adds to the strong role Kendall developed in his time as provincial health officer. His term has been called ‘legendary’ and he was a recipient of the Order of B.C. in 2005, marking his contributions to public health in B.C. He was prolific in writing reports on Indigenous Health, drinking water and other public-health issues, and managed a wide variety of concerns that included advising on the Ebola outbreak, radiation from Fukushima, SARS, and swine flu.

Together, Henry and Kendall are credited with working together to fight one of the deadliest challenges facing British Columbians today, the overdose crisis.

“Dr. Henry has been an incredibly strong support for me in my role as provincial health officer and filled in for me countless times when I was unavailable,” said Kendall. “I feel confident that Dr. Henry is the right person for this job. I have relied on her judgment and approach regularly during her time as deputy provincial health officer.”

Prior to taking on the deputy role, Henry was the interim provincial executive medical director of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and held a variety of public-health positions with the BCCDC from 2005 onwards.

Henry graduated from Dalhousie University’s medical school and completed a master’s in public health as well as residency training in preventive medicine at the University of California and in community medicine at the University of Toronto.

The provincial health officer is the senior public health official for B.C., and is responsible for monitoring the health of the population of the province and providing independent advice to the ministers and public officials on public-health issues that concern people in British Columbia. Health authorities also have medical health officers who have powers under the Public Health Act. Their responsibilities include advising on public health, including management and budgetary roles, providing evidence-based opinions and support to the provincial health officer.