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St. B CEO’s payout raises questions, eyebrows

You could call it a cautionary tale. Or perhaps a teachable moment.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/07/2022 (206 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

You could call it a cautionary tale. Or perhaps a teachable moment.

Hospital CEO paid $615K in year she quit

SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Former St. Boniface Hospital president Martine Bouchard earned $615,170 in 2021. In 2020, she took home $294,358 in total remuneration.

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A former St. Boniface Hospital chief executive officer — criticized for her regular long-distance commutes from Montreal — earned more than twice her typical salary in 2021 after bowing out of the job 18 months early.

Public compensation disclosure reports show former president Martine Bouchard earned $615,170 in 2021; the year prior, she took home $294,358 in total remuneration.

Bouchard resigned for personal reasons, including to care for a family member, on Oct. 15, 2021, 18 months before her contract was set to end.

“It’s certainly not a good look,” Opposition health critic Uzoma Asagwara said of the six-figure compensation package.

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Of course, some Manitobans might be inclined to apply a more direct one-word descriptive — “outrage” — to the revelation that former St. Boniface Hospital president and chief executive officer Martine Bouchard was paid $615,170 in 2021, despite having resigned from her position in mid-October, a full 18 months before her contract with the institution was set to expire.

Considering Ms. Bouchard’s earnings during her last full year of employment at SBH — 2020 — were $294,358, according to public sector compensation disclosure, one is left with the conclusion the former CEO received a very generous severance package in return for her resignation.

Or, viewed in more blunt terms, it seems SBH leadership concluded it was worth a prorated additional payment of upwards of $360,000 for the hospital to shed itself of the adminstrative and public-relations burden Ms. Bouchard had apparently become.

SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Former St. Boniface Hospital president and CEO Martine Bouchard received a very generous severance package in return for her resignation.

Her tenure as CEO was controversial from the outset. Shortly after she took the helm of the province’s second largest hospital in May 2018, it was reported that Ms. Bouchard was not based in Manitoba while doing the job. Instead, she commuted home to Montreal on weekends, and sometimes only worked four days a week in Winnipeg.

SBH leadership defended the arrangement at the time, with board chair Tom Carson stating, “There is no issue with the quality and time of service she gives the hospital. There is absolutely no doubt that we get more than 40 hours a week out of her.”

A hospital spokesperson also noted taxpayers were not on the hook for Ms. Bouchard’s frequent commutes; rather, the institution’s sponsoring organization, the Catholic Health Corp. of Manitoba, covered the travel costs.

Having a non-locally-based CEO during a time of tremendous upheaval brought on by the Pallister government’s ambitous health-care restructuring did not sit well with some. And perceptions only became more negative when the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic made Ms. Bouchard’s travel — indeed, everyone’s travel — markedly more problematic.

Having a non-locally-based CEO during a time of tremendous upheaval brought on by the Pallister government’s ambitous health-care restructuring did not sit well with some.

After leaving Winnipeg in April 2020 to attend to a family emergency, Ms. Bouchard did not return to in-person duties at SBH until August, with Mr. Carson citing Quebec’s status as “an epicentre of COVID” as the reason she could not return to Manitoba without “major risk issues.”

Again, the chair defended the arrangement, stating “the board is very happy with the way she’s operating, with the way her team is operating, and with how well St. Boniface Hospital has handled the pandemic.”

In August 2020, with COVID-19 raging, it was revealed Ms. Bouchard travelled from Montreal to Winnipeg and did not self-isolate for the required 14 days upon arrival, seemingly applying to herself an exemption intended for front-line health-care workers. And in December 2020, at the height of pandemic-related restrictions, the CEO travelled to Quebec for the holidays at a time Manitobans were being told in no uncertain terms to stay home.

SASHA SEFTER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Former St. Boniface Hospital president and CEO Martine Bouchard received a very generous severance package in return for her resignation.

In the end, Ms. Bouchard’s exit from SBH was described as being for personal reasons, including to care for a family member. But a purely voluntary exit doesn’t exactly square with an out-the-door payout that more than doubled her previous annual stipend. Clearly, the hospital was ready for her to leave, and willing to sweeten the pot considerably to make it happen.

It is, as NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara put it, “not a good look.” One can only hope SBH and other health-care institutions will heed the lessons offered by this cautionary tale about corporate control, commitment to community, crisis communication and compounded compensation.

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