Dr. Deena Hinshaw — Alberta’s former chief medical officer of health who was lionized then pilloried as the face of the province’s COVID-19 response — has landed a new, short-term role in British Columbia doing public health planning.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, says Hinshaw joins on a six-month contract while that province’s permanent deputy health officer is on temporary assignment.
Hinshaw is to work with Dr. Andrew Larder, who previously served as a medical health officer at B.C.’s Fraser Health Authority and Interior Health, to help strengthen B.C.’s response to public health emergencies.
“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 said in a statement Wednesday.
Hinshaw “was a key leader in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in (Alberta),” she added.
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.
The move comes more than two months after Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, who has long aligned herself with those questioning the mainstream science approach to the pandemic, removed Hinshaw as the province’s top doctor. It was a promise Smith made on her first day in office on Oct. 11.
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 has previously endorsed debunked treatments, including ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, and embraced fringe views of the pandemic, such as the Great Barrington Declaration, which calls for protecting the elderly and frail but otherwise letting COVID-19 run free to build up herd immunity.
Hinshaw openly rejected the Great Barrington Declaration as flawed science and logistically impossible.
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.
In November, Smith fired the entire governing board of Alberta Health Services, replacing them with one administrator.
Shortly after Hinshaw’s departure, Alberta’s two deputy medical officers of health resigned. Alberta also hasn’t named a full-time replacement for Dr. Verna Yiu, who was eased out as head of Alberta Health Services last April.
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.
COVID-19 protesters chanted “lock her up!” while the government spent money on Hinshaw’s security due to numerous threats. She was also satirized in a stage production titled “Jason Kenney’s Hot Boy Summer: the Musical.”