Fort Frances Coun. John Albanese was honoured for his 26 years of service to the Northwestern Health Unit’s board of health on Friday morning in front of family, friends, members of the board, and health unit staff after retiring back in October.
“John Albanese has provided the board of health . . . with leadership and support for more than 25 years,” noted board chair Julie Roy.
In honour of his service, Roy said the board has established the “John Albanese Award of Excellence,” to be awarded by the board of health in recognition of exceptional achievements in the pursuit of excellence.
Roy also noted the first “John Albanese Award of Excellence” was presented to the staff and board of the Northwestern Health Unit for achieving Excellence Canada bronze certification.
A commemorative vest bearing the words “John Albanese Excellence Award for 2015” was issued to all health unit staff and board members.
Roy also presented a vest to Albanese, as well as a certificate for his 26 years of service.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with John for pretty much 20 years,” said health unit CEO Mark Perrault, noting he began attending board meetings in 1996.
“John, of course, has been at every board meeting,” he added.
“Only when he’s actually in the hospital would he ever miss a board meeting.”
Perrault said the Northwestern Health Unit has gone through many changes over the past 20 years.
“We’ve gone through mandatory programs, the downloading of public health on municipalities, with lawsuits about paying for it,” he recalled.
“We’ve had all operation health protection, and there was whole capacity review and talk of amalgamations.
“We’ve had discord in the past among board of health members, especially when we had to pay our levy,” Perrault added.
“And through that whole period of time, the one consistency we had was John,” he stressed.
“John was always the reasonable voice. He was always diplomatic.”
Perrault credited Albanese with the fact that communities across the region have health unit offices.
“At one time, the idea [was] have this central office in Kenora and then you had the little under-funded little offices up there,” he explained.
“We really made a move to spread our services around so people in the communities didn’t have to travel for services,” Perrault said, noting the person who really pushed that was Albanese.
“The direction we have gone with a decentralized office where every community is worthwhile; again John’s leadership has been central to it,” he remarked.
Perrault acknowledged it is a loss to the health unit having Albanese retire.
“But for 26 years he has really guided us,” he said. “He’s left us in really good shape.”
He also stressed Albanese is Fort Frances’ biggest backer and a huge supporter of public health.
“John has taken it on as his own mission,” Perrault said. “He’s one of these guys who always wants to help people.
“He’s taken public health to heart,” he added. “He lived it, he showed it.
“His concern was making this place a better place and it is a better place for your service,” Perrault said to Albanese.
“You’re one of the best people I’ve met in my life.”
“I appreciate you guys and all the years I’ve been with the health unit,” Albanese replied, recalling his first year with the Northwestern Health Unit back in 1989.
“They gave us a typewriter with letters missing,” he said. “My goal was to get a new typewriter and also to move the health unit in the front, but in the basement like they used to be.”
Albanese remembered being asked by then Fort Frances Mayor Dick Lyons to join the board of health.
“I had no clue what I was getting into,” he admitted. “But throughout the years, I started gaining experience and started to get to know the people that they work for at the Northwestern Health Unit.
“I started getting involved more and more in programs, and making sure the people that we represent get the best health that they could get,” he added.
Albanese served as board chair for 10-straight years beginning in 2000.
Under his direction, the health unit increased its offices to the current 14 across 13 communities to shore up much-needed programs in under-serviced areas.
He showcased his experience and leadership, taking on a number of controversial issues.
In 2003, for instance, Albanese chaired the board amidst the health unit’s action to declare second-hand smoke a workplace hazard.
Then in 2013, he led colleagues as the Overdose Prevention Program was rolled out.
“Things evolve and things get bigger and better,” Albanese noted.
“I admire the people that work for the health unit,” he added. “I’ve been your strong advocate to make sure Fort Frances gets the best.
“Thank you everybody,” Albanese concluded. “Keep up the good work.”