Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner June 17, 2021
This is a story of a modest, hard-working and collaborative health professional whose leadership has guided Peterborough and area through its worst-ever health crisis.
It was in the decade, the “oughts,” I think it is called, (from 2000-2010), that I met who later became our respected medical officer of health for 13 years, Dr. Rosana Pellizzari Salvaterra.
I had been asked to co-edit a small, lay-edited independent weekly newspaper in Toronto that had been founded in 1976, and then had a national listing of 30,000 subscribers. It was “Catholic New Times” and its office was in an elementary school, St. Paul’s, on Queen Street at Parliament.
We had great columnists, including Charlie Angus, now an outspoken federal NDP member of Parliament, and Jim Loney, a peace activist who endured imprisonment in Iraq. We also featured popular articles written by a Toronto physician, Dr. Rosana Pellizzari, whose practice was almost entirely among immigrant and refugee women.
It was a social justice voice, from the grassroots.
I learned her story: the daughter of working-class Italian immigrants who had struggled to learn English, Rosana was born in 1956, a bright kid at her high school who headed to India to volunteer for two years after high school. There she came to realize that traditional medicine just offered band-aid solutions. You had to focus upstream.
Back in Toronto, Rosana earned a sociology degree at Waterloo, and returned to India with a focus on adult literacy. But the area near the border with China became unstable and foreigners were given 48 hours to leave.
In Toronto, she met Silvano Salvaterra, who was soon to become a lawyer. Marrying in 1980, each has had an enduring commitment to making the world better.
They volunteered with the Jesuits in Espanola, ON. Her experience there with Indigenous women led Rosana to return to study, medicine at McMaster University.
As a family physician, she trained others in responding to intimate partner violence, and in understanding the social determinants of health. She worked with HIV patients, sometimes undocumented and without OHIP coverage.
Sometime in there, the New Democratic Party became aware of their talents and approached first, Sil and then Rosana, to run in federal and provincial elections in York South Weston. That turned out not to be their vocation, and Rosana went on to specialize in public health as her way of “focusing upstream.” Her first posting was Stratford.
Thirteen years ago, we lucked in. Rosana wanted to work for a board that also served First Nations.
Little did she know she would be plunged into a global pandemic in 2020. Her work has been reassuring our population, urging us to follow guidelines, and get vaccinated. Personally, I saw her on her knees administering the vaccine to nervous seniors at Evinrude in March.
She has given two media briefings a week, connected with the Ministry of Health and advocated vigorously for more vaccine for Peterborough. She has worked steadily, maintaining protocols, sacrificing trips to a cottage and reunions with her grandchildren, and praising at every turn her staff.
When Peterborough Public Health moved from its location near the hospital to King Street, the building had been empty and had attracted a small group of homeless people. Rosana arranged to have a meal with them and explain what was happening.
Each Christmas Eve, she organized a choir with teacher Trevor Digby to sing carols at the hospital. She planned John and my 50th anniversary party, a potluck. She became a service co-leader at the Unitarian Fellowship, and enjoyed chairing the food security component of Peterborough’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.
A long- time commitment to Indigenous groups meant she has been a frequent presence at Hiawatha and Curve Lake. The zeal for social justice and inclusion still burns brightly.
As Dr. Salvaterra nears her retirement, and looks at moving closer to family in Edmonton, our entire city and county hails this woman and gives thanks.
"Gleanings" is Rosemary Ganley's new book. You can purchase directly from the author at at firstname.lastname@example.org or from >Amazon<