“Employees were intimidated by him” MLHU staffers speak out as Mackie faces conduct complaints

Dr. Chris Mackie, the Medical Officer of Health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit, at his most recent media briefing on October 21st, 2021 (MLHU. YouTube)

In the midst of an indefinite leave of absence, current and former colleagues of Middlesex-London’s medical officer of health are accusing Dr. Chris Mackie of creating a toxic work environment.

“He belittles you. He comes across like he wants to hear from staff, but he already knows what he wants to do,” said one former Middlesex London Health Unit employee.

“In meetings with him we’d just shut down,” the person added. “He would make you feel small and unintelligent.”

Current and former MLHU staff members quoted in this story spoke to LondonNewsToday.ca on the condition of anonymity, which they asked for out of fear of reprisal for speaking out publicly.

“Employees were intimidated by him. He makes you feel inadequate,” said a former staffer. “He puts on this façade about caring about staff. It’s not genuine.”

Multiple health unit sources have confirmed to LondonNewsToday.ca that Mackie has been the subject of several workplace conduct complaints, some dating back to before the COVID-19 pandemic started. The exact number of complaints is unknown, as a health unit spokesperson declined comment when asked for clarification on this and other details in this story.

The spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied that Mackie’s leave is related to his workplace conduct.

“It was a culture where you had to just get it done, at any cost to your own mental health, or to your own work-life balance,” said another former MLHU employee when asked about the environment Mackie created. “And that was pre-pandemic.”

Mackie’s leave was announced to staff members at the Health Unit on November 15 – however, he had been away from work for a few weeks before that memo was sent out.

His last virtual media briefing was on October 21. The health unit holds those virtual news conferences twice a week and Dr. Alex Summers has been filling in since. Summers’ appointment as Acting Medical Officer of Health became official the same day that Mackie’s leave was made public.

Mackie’s Twitter account has also been relatively quiet since October 22, only being used to promote health unit public announcements on a few occasions.

“As the details of Dr. Mackie’s leave of absence are a personnel matter, and because of confidentiality considerations, the Board of Health will not be commenting publicly, nor will it be sharing any other details of specifics related to these arrangements,” an internal memo from November 15 stated.

The health unit issued a brief news release later that day saying only, “The Middlesex-London Board of Health has appointed Dr. Alex Summers as Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit while Dr. Chris Mackie is taking a leave of absence from his duties as Medical Officer of Health.”

Summers’ leadership during COVID-19 has been the more consistent presence, even when Mackie was still in the office.

“At the start of the pandemic, Dr. Summers was leading the bulk of the (pandemic) efforts,” said a former MLHU staffer. “Mackie wasn’t visible.”

There were no other details in the release and officials declined to answer questions about the nature of the leave, when it had begun, and when Mackie would return to work.

It’s not the first change to Mackie’s employment status.

Along with his Medical Officer of Health role, he was also CEO of the health unit until July of 2020. His role was split at that point, and he and the health unit claimed it was due to an increase in workload stemming from the pandemic.

Michael Clarke took over as CEO at that point. 

Several sources have told LondonNewsToday.ca they believed Clarke’s role was created so he could act as an “intermediary” between Mackie and staff members with whom he had created poor relationships.

Clarke made $208,052.98 in 2020, according to the Ontario Sunshine List. He started the year as the health unit’s Vice President of Modernization before shifting to the CEO role, all while working at Western University as an adjunct professor. He left the health unit in February of this year, and was replaced by Emily Williams.

“My interactions started off without a strong level of trust. It felt like there was always an ulterior motive, he was never up front,” a previous MLHU employee said when asked how Mackie related to staffers.

Mackie spoke briefly to LondonNewsToday.ca on Wednesday.

“I have been and am very committed to the work of the health unit, I believe in the organization and mission, and I conducted myself in the best possible way to support the organization and its people in the best possible way,” Mackie said.

Mackie was asked about the reasons for hiring Michael Clarke and the workplace complaints filed against him. He declined to comment on those matters saying only that hiring Clarke was a decision made by the Middlesex-London Board of Health.

Chair the board, Ward 5 Councillor Maureen Cassidy, told LondonNewsToday.ca she “can’t comment on personnel matters” when she was reached on Wednesday.

A Middlesex-London Health Unit spokesperson also said they had no comment when asked about Mackie’s leave of absence and this story. Michael Clarke did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.

“(Mackie) was demeaning to staff,” said another former employee. “If you didn’t abide by what he said, it became very difficult for you going forward.“

A current MLHU employee said when interacting with Mackie “you didn’t feel like he cared about you or your opinion.”

Mackie remains on a leave of absence.

Neither the board, nor Middlesex-London Health Unit staff have said whether he’s collecting a salary during his leave.

“It’s a stressful place to work during a pandemic, but he made it worse,” the current employee said. “There was always tension.”