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Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's former top doctor, hired by B.C. public health service

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Alberta's former chief medical officer of health has landed a new role in British Columbia.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who led Alberta's COVID-19 response, was named a deputy provincial health officer for B.C. on Wednesday.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer (PHO), says Hinshaw is joining B.C.'s public health leadership team on a six-month contract while one of the province's deputy health officers is away on assignment.

"In her new role, Dr. Hinshaw will support the work of the office of the PHO, while Dr. Martin Lavoie, a deputy provincial health officer, is on temporary assignment," Henry said in a statement announcing the new hire.

"The toxic drug crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing responses to heat, wildfires and outbreaks have shown just how critically important the work we do in public health is in supporting and protecting people and communities throughout B.C.," Henry added.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, who has aligned herself with those questioning the mainstream science approach to the pandemic, removed Hinshaw as the province's chief medical officer of health in November, shortly after Smith took office. 

The Alberta government paid Hinshaw a salary of $363,633.92 in 2021, while she also took home an additional $227,911.35 in "cash benefits," which can include overtime pay, vacation payouts and a vehicle allowance.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, when asked about Hinshaw's hiring during a news conference in Vancouver, riffed on the "Alberta is Calling" campaign that was launched last year to attract skilled workers to the province.

"B.C. is calling," Dix quipped, adding that he was delighted to welcome Hinshaw to B.C.

"She's not the first doctor to be recruited here from Alberta and certainly won't be the last," the health minister said.

In a written statement, Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said: "We thank Dr. Hinshaw for her service and wish her well in her new role."

Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Hinshaw's sojourn west highlights a disturbing trend of health professionals rejecting the chaos and questionable policy direction in her province's health system under the United Conservative Party government.

"We're seeing and talking to and hearing from more and more doctors who want to work within a stable health-care system, one where science and evidence is the driving force of decision-making and, of course, where they are able to practise their profession in a stable and respectful environment," Notley told reporters in Edmonton.

Alberta has not named a full-time replacement for Hinshaw. Dr. Mark Joffe is serving on an interim basis while continuing in his clinical oversight role as a vice-president with Alberta Health Services.

Smith has also said she wanted to hear advice from Paul Alexander, a one-time adviser to former U.S. president Donald Trump. Alexander has rejected COVID vaccines as “bioweapons.”

Smith blamed both Hinshaw and the leadership of Alberta Health Services for failing to deliver the best advice and care for Albertans as the hospital system came close to buckling in successive waves of the pandemic, which the premier said forced the province to impose freedom-busting vaccine mandates and restrictions.

Shortly after Hinshaw's departure, Alberta's two deputy medical officers of health resigned. 

Hinshaw, an Alberta-trained public health specialist, became a celebrity of sorts during the pandemic's first wave in the spring of 2020, as she delivered regular, sometimes daily, updates on the virus, its spread and methods to contain it.

Her face on was on T-shirts, a dinosaur skeleton was named after her and there was a run on a periodic-table-themed dress she wore at a news conference.

But as hospitals were pushed to capacity and mandates were imposed, Hinshaw faced criticism along with the rest of then-premier Jason Kenney's government.

Dr. Andrew Larder, who previously served as a medical officer of health at both Fraser Health and Interior Health, has also joined B.C.'s public health leadership team on a temporary assignment over the next several months, Henry announced.

"I feel very fortunate to work alongside such talented and dedicated public health experts and I know their expertise will be a great assistance as we emerge from the pandemic and continue to address the many public health challenges facing the province," the provincial health officer said.

- With files from The Canadian Press

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