Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s public health chief, taking leave of absence for medical treatment. Photo by James Nair
After spending 10 months fighting to keep her job as Toronto’s chief public health officer, Dr. Eileen de Villa said she is now taking a leave of absence and looking for a permanent position in the city.
“I was really proud of what we did at the time, but we also made mistakes,” de Villa said in an interview with CityNews on Friday. “When I look back on this, I wish we could have done a much better job.”
For de Villa, who was appointed to the role on July 1 after the death of Toronto Public Health’s CEO, there’s no such thing as an easy job.
Since the Oct. 1 death of city public health chief Paul Anderson, de Villa, 53, has remained in the city’s top job despite having just two weeks’ full-time leave to deal with the “stress of the job,” she said. Anderson’s death came after his heart stopped during a routine family trip to Niagara Falls.
When Toronto and its unions first asked the city to hire de Villa last year, they argued she had the required experience to manage the public health department. But the unions said de Villa’s medical certification could be a problem.
On Friday, de Villa said she was confident she had the necessary experience to carry on, but that it was frustrating to have been kept in the job all the while.
De Villa has been a practicing physician for 38 years who worked for more than three decades with the city’s water industry, most recently as the Toronto Water Utility’s CEO.
She has a medical degree from the University of Toronto and spent her career in various positions with Toronto Water. She retired 10 years ago.
“I wanted to do something else. I really enjoyed the work I was doing at Toronto Water,” de Villa said. “Being there, having the freedom, I loved every minute.”
De Villa said she had “the best job in Canada” and would have to consider leaving if she found the position wasn’t right.
On Friday, city workers protested her proposed resignation by marching outside her office.
Some city workers have left the service