The Medicine Shoppe pharmacist Michael Hatt hit the road last November with his mobile flu clinic. -- Photo by Jake Boudrot

HALIFAX: Two residents of the region are the winners of the Dr. Robert Strang Community Hero Award.

This year 20 Nova Scotians who inspired others, raised spirits or helped people cope during the COVID-19 pandemic were chosen to receive the award, and they include Mary Janet MacDonald, of Port Hood and Port Hawkesbury’s Michael Hatt.

Hatt said he found out he was a finalist when the news broke early last week.

“It was an absolute honour and a privilege,” Hatt told The Reporter. “It was a surprise at first, of course.”

According to Doctors Nova Scotia (DNS), Hatt is being recognized for making vaccinations more accessible. After purchasing a retired ambulance online, DNS said he converted it into a mobile vaccination clinic that he drove to rural communities to administer flu shots – and currently COVID-19 vaccinations – for seniors and people with mobility issues.

“That was kind of the stepping stone that led to this,” he said. “We started off with the old ambulance because we were trying to do mobile clinics for flu, and it’s stream-rolled into multi-purpose delivering COVID vaccines as well.”

Doctors Nova Scotia pointed to Hatt’s efforts help ensure that vulnerable people can access this essential care. When not on the road, they noted that his mobile unit is the base for vaccine clinics in the community.

Hatt said it has been a transition, and The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy has been forced to adjust to the online CanImmunize portal which does booking, registering and reporting.

“That was a little bit different than what we had to do with flu shots and that took some ingenuity, as far as getting some internet out to our parking, but we’ve got everything organized and well planned, and it’s been going smoothly ever since,” he explained. “By doing it outdoors, it sped up our process for sure. It allows us to do vaccines quicker. But also by keeping everybody outdoors in their own vehicle, it’s helping us safeguard ourselves.”

Hatt said one thing that has an impact now is vaccine availability, but many people are booking their second shot, and almost every eligible person has booked their first vaccination, which are positive trends.

“Right now, we have vaccine available until the middle of June, but then we have no guarantees after that,” he stated. “I’m really happy to say that I think we’ve done a really good job of getting all eligible people in the Strait area vaccinated, at least with their first dose, and hopefully we can start off with number two in the coming weeks.”

Mary Janet MacDonald

MacDonald is being honoured for providing inspiration and comfort to people through her “Tunes and Wooden Spoons” Facebook page, DNS noted.

“It’s nice to have a couple of local people, from our county and the Town of Port Hawkesbury, and I love what he did as well, it was a very good service to the community,” MacDonald noted of Hatt.

She said she is happy to reach people who are confined in their home, or Cape Bretoners who can’t return home.

“I don’t know about the healthy part, because we’re baking lots of goodies,” MacDonald said of her submission letter. “We have a wonderful group of followers that tune in on Sundays… They stay with me while I bake, and if I’m lucky enough to have any entertainer on that day.”

DNS explained that every Sunday afternoon throughout the pandemic, MacDonald has live-streamed her recipes, songs and conversations with more than 50,000 followers, helping boost morale for those stuck at home and missing loved ones. They said her show often features live music from Cape Breton performers and MacDonald always signs off by telling people how much she cares about them.

“I like to tell them that we’re having a visit so that they’re coming in to my Cape Breton kitchen, we’re baking something, we’re having a cup of tea and a little conversation,” she explained. “They really do matter to me and that I want them to know that they’re loved and to go out there and love one another, it’s my basic message.”

MacDonald said the shows are a great opportunity to promote this part of Cape Breton.

“I also love to use the platform as a way to promote where we live; the way of live and the beauty,” she noted. “Sometimes we don’t get to promote the west side of the island as much.”

According to a press release issued by DNS late last month, the winners were chosen from 179 applications. Each winner will receive one of Dr. Strang’s famous neckties, autographed by him and framed, DNS said.

During the month of June, DNS said the winners’ names will be announced on Doctors Nova Scotia’s social media channels (Facebook and Twitter) and on the YourDoctors.ca blog.

In December 2020, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, donated some of the zany neckties he had worn to help lighten the mood during COVID-19 media briefings to decorate a Christmas tree for the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia’s annual Festival of Trees fundraiser, DNS said, noting they were the successful bidder for that Christmas tree.

The Dr. Robert Strang Community Hero Award was created so the neckties could continue to uplift and inspire Nova Scotians, in honour of Dr. Strang and the team at Nova Scotia Public Health, DNS said. Doctors Nova Scotia said it partnered with Nova Scotia Health and IWK Health to offer this award.

“As a Nova Scotian, I am very proud of Dr. Strang himself and I really look at him as a beacon of light,” MacDonald said. “They’re keeping us in line and safe. And to have anything associated with his name is really incredible for me; to have that connection with him.”

DNS added this award is about recognizing unsung heroes who have put others first and gone the extra mile to serve their communities during this difficult time.