Eustace Orleans-Lindsay is on a mission to ensure seasonal agricultural workers receive proper access to health care in Norfolk County.
A member of the inaugural graduating class of the Master of Science in Global Health program at McMaster University in 2011, his resolve for his mission has only strengthened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The managing pharmacist at the Real Canadian Superstore in Simcoe is the chairman of the multi-stakeholder Norfolk Seasonal Agricultural Worker Community Committee. He has been involved with the committee through its various iterations since 2013.
Most recently, Orleans-Lindsay has been in the news calling for compassion towards seasonal agricultural workers on farms in the Norfolk County.
“On behalf of the committee, I have been highlighting that while some people are demanding these workers are tested more, it actually gives the illusion that when they came, they brought COVID with them,” he said. “However, when they came, they were healthy, so we shouldn’t cast aspersions on them.”
“I am also talking about their mental health needs. When an outbreak happens on a farm, these workers are quarantined. They have no family here and no social network. That takes a toll on them. We need to remember that, and support them in any way we can.”
The Norfolk Seasonal Agricultural Worker Community Committee has made progress with its partners over the years, notably through the creation of health clinics that are run by the Grand River Community Health Centre during the farming season to ensure that the thousands of workers who come from countries like Mexico and those in the Caribbean, have access to health care and medication.
The committee also hosts an annual health fair which serves as a platform to provide seasonal agricultural workers with vital health and wellness services information and create awareness about challenges faced by the workers. The annual health fair usually attracts more than 300 workers.
“These workers are actually protecting the food security of Canada,” said Orleans-Lindsay. “I know people don’t always see it that way. A lot of Canadians don’t want to do the job that seasonal agricultural workers do. It’s backbreaking work. You have to be out working sometimes for 12 hours plus a day.”
The committee’s work goes beyond health. Pre-COVID-19, the committee established an annual soccer tournament, called Farms of Norfolk Football Association, or FNFA, where teams of workers from local farms compete. Area residents come as game spectators and it further establishes bonds between the seasonal workers and the community.
“We like to say: FNFA! It’s better than FIFA,” he says.
The need to help others is deep-seated for Orleans-Lindsay.
His dad began his career as a business executive for a bookstore and later established a privately-owned construction company in his hometown of Cape Coast, Ghana, while his mother was a teacher at a girls’ high school.
Their doors were always open.
“In our home, we always had cousins and friends who, for one reason or another, had to stay with us because they needed help,” he said.
“As a result of my upbringing, I try as much as I can to create an environment which is fair, transparent and just. I believe that if I can make life a little more comfortable for seasonal agricultural workers in any way, shape or form, it is important to do.”
A science major at St. Augustine’s College in Cape Coast, medicine seemed like a natural calling for Orleans-Lindsay. However, his neighbor was a pharmacist, and discussions with her piqued his interest.
He subsequently earned a BPharm (Hons) from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana where he was actively involved in extracurricular activities like the Ghana Pharmaceutical Students Association and International Pharmaceutical Students Federation.
After working at a local pharmacy in Accra and participating in a visiting scientist program at the United States Pharmacopeia in Rockville, Maryland, he went on to spend five years as a medical representative with Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals for Anglophone West Africa. It was here that he learned about building relationships with stakeholders that would prove beneficial in Norfolk County.
Upon the encouragement of his wife, Kate, who had emigrated to Canada in 1998, Orleans-Lindsay emigrated to Canada in 2002.
“My wife told me we should go to Canada and just try it out,” he said with a laugh. “You do crazy things for love.”
“But when I came to Canada, I had to be certified as a pharmacist in Canada. It felt like starting all over again. My faith in Jesus Christ kept me going. He got me through all of this.”
Once certified, Orleans-Lindsay was hired as an intern in 2003 and subsequently as a managing pharmacist in 2004 with Loblaws, which remains his employer. The company has allowed him to move to grow his career and education, including a shift to British Columbia for his first year of an MPH in global health program at Simon Fraser University. He jumped at the opportunity to return to his family in Hamilton when McMaster started their MSc in Global Health program.
“I am still in contact with a number of my colleagues from the class of 2011,” he said. “The way the program was put together was in a multidisciplinary context that extended outside of the Faculty. It kept me on track and focused. It was a unique program and I’m glad I had the opportunity to complete my master’s degree at McMaster.”
Today, Orleans-Lindsay continues to balance career, family, education and his community volunteerism. His work has been recognized with a number of awards and honours.
He was voted the Loblaw Zone Pharmacist of the Year 2006 for the Hamilton-Niagara region, and in 2014, was recognized at the Regional Pharmacy Managers Roundtable for excellent contributions on living Loblaw’s shared values of “Care for Community”. He is the recipient of a 2015 Ontario Pharmacists Association Award – the Pfizer Bowl of Hygeia – which is presented to a pharmacist on the basis of outstanding service to the community. He also received the Community Addiction and Mental Health Services of Haldimand and Norfolk 2018 VOICE Award for his community leadership.
In 2019, he was the recipient of the Global Community Impact Award presented by the McMaster Alumni Association.
Orleans-Lindsay is now working towards his PhD in pharmaceutical sciences within the Collaborative Specialization in Global Health program at the University of Toronto.
He and his wife also have a busy household with three children: Darryl, 17; Janelle 15, and his “baby”, Ezabelle, 8.
“My wife and my family have been a great support for me,” he said.
He hopes his work, especially that in his community, inspires his children and those around him, including others in his field.
“I’ve always thought global health and pharmacy go hand-in-hand,” he said. “I don’t think you have to travel outside of Canada to practise global health. Right here in Canada, we have vulnerable populations, like seasonal agricultural workers, who could use some help especially in areas such as chronic disease management.”
“Pharmacists can go out of their comfort zone to be able to do other things in their community.”