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Newsmakers of 2021: Anthony Di Monte leaves city hall after shepherding Ottawa’s initial vaccine rollout


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Anthony Di Monte has always been a paramedic first. When he retired this fall after five years heading emergency and protective services for the City of Ottawa, he said being the chief of paramedic services, his previous job, was the pinnacle of his career.

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Being a paramedic for decades gave Di Monte an eyewitness view of history — both gut wrenching and heart warming.

As a senior officer with Montreal’s paramedic service, Di Monte was one of the first responders to  École Polytechnique on Dec. 6, 1989, the day Marc Lépine killed 14 women and injured 14 others, including 10 women, before taking his own life. He describes it now as a day Canada lost its innocence.

Di Monte was also one of the first on the scene after the shooting of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial on Oct. 22, 2014.

And there was another side of the profession he describes at the “Swiss Army knife of healthcare.”

He has also rubbed shoulders with leaders and coordinated the Papal visit in Montreal in 1984. Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien used to refer to him as the “ambulance guy.”

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Like many paramedics, Di Monte also assisted at a number of births. After the first one, in Montreal, the young paramedic mentioned in a report that he had “delivered” the baby. A stern nurse later gave him a scolding he never forgot, saying: “Young man, I’ll have you know you did absolutely nothing. Mom delivered that baby. You were just there as a witness.”

That, he said with a laugh, put things in perspective.

That kind of perspective and those decades of experience helped guide him through his final assignment before retirement — overseeing the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to a pandemic weary city. That, too, was history in the making.

Di Monte, now 62, agreed to take on the role of head of they city’s emergency and protective services department and was made full-time general manager in 2017. He saw the opportunity as a good way to end his career and broaden his horizons.

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He couldn’t have predicted what was to come.

During that period, he dealt with floods and tornadoes and, finally, the global COVID-19 pandemic.

When Ottawa declared a state of emergency in March of 2020, his role kicked into high gear. With other city and public health officials, he worked around the clock, seven days a week much of the time. That punishing schedule is something his years as a paramedic had prepared him for.

“I come from that. I have been 24/7 on call pretty much my entire career.”

When vaccines were finally available he oversaw the unprecedented rollout.

Ottawa Public Health had valuable experience in immunization campaigns, but Di Monte said this rollout was broader “this was true emergency management.”

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Di Monte describes structuring the locations and logistic of the vaccination campaign as “a true military effort, strategically and technically.”

Ottawa was lucky, he said, because there was high demand in the community for vaccines as soon as they were available. But that also created frustration when the city consistently received fewer vaccines per capita than other parts of the province.

Di Monte describes his frustration as he watched the daily reports of how many doses of COVID-19 vaccine every health unit in the province was getting. With demand in Ottawa consistently exceeding supply, it was clear that the city was not getting its share.

Mayor Jim Watson eventually went public with those concerns and, as vaccine supply increased, the high demand in the city was met. Ottawa remains one of the most vaccinated major cities in Canada.

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Di Monte stepped away from his job in October, heading to a much-anticipated retirement.

“It has been a long run and a good run,” he said, adding that the past year “has been a little tough.”

He recalls a moment of pride when the city ended its pandemic state of emergency in July, more than a year after it was put in place.

As he was preparing to leave the job, Di Monte was looking ahead to the vaccine rollout for children between five and 11. As that immunization campaign continues, Ottawa’s children are among the most vaccinated in the country.

But as the Omicron wave of the pandemic barrelled down on Ontario, the man who had help shepherd the city through earlier deadly waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, was on to his next role: retirement.

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