In the midst of a major health reform that has strained resources at St. Boniface Hospital, the Free Press has learned the centre’s CEO regularly commutes to her home in Montreal on weekends and sometimes only works four days a week in Winnipeg.
Martine Bouchard took the helm of Manitoba's second-largest hospital on May 1, 2018.
Micheline St-Hilaire, a spokeswoman for the hospital, confirmed that Bouchard spends most weekends in Montreal, where her husband operates a business.
"She has a family that she needs to attend to and that's what she does on the weekends," St-Hilaire, the hospital's director of corporate affairs and communications, said.
Bouchard did not agree to an interview on Monday.
Other publicly paid Manitoba executives who commuted long distances on weekends in recent years:
Scott Thomson, the former president and chief executive officer of Manitoba Hydro, made news when his family moved to British Columbia in 2014, and he commuted to the West Coast on weekends. A year later, he left the province's largest corporation.
Manitoba Hydro senior executive Siobhan Vinish commuted to her home in Calgary on weekends for three and a half years before leaving the corporation seven months ago. She is now has an executive position with Trans Mountain in Calgary.
Deanne Carson, an executive with Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries in Winnipeg, has commuted to her home in Calgary on weekends for more than two years.
St. Boniface Hospital is facing several challenges related to the Pallister government's decision to consolidate emergency room services in Winnipeg at three hospitals (including St. B) from six.
St. Boniface's emergency department's physical expansion is not yet complete, and many ER nurses the hospital was counting on receiving this month from Concordia Hospital, due to that hospital's ER closure, have now decided to stay put. That's because the government recently decided to open an urgent care centre at Concordia.
Meanwhile, last Wednesday, an internal memo at St. Boniface Hospital said the number of emergency department patients had reached "critical and unsafe levels."
When Bouchard and Winnipeg Regional Health Authority president and CEO Réal Cloutier appeared to downplay the situation to reporters the following day, St. Boniface ER physician Paul Doucet came forward, telling the Free Press he had been alarmed at what he and his colleagues faced. A shortage of hospital beds had led to 22 admitted patients clogging up the ER, he said.
St-Hilaire said she could not say how often Bouchard leaves for Montreal on Thursdays. "It varies," she said. "Sometimes she goes on Fridays."
The hospital did not clarify before deadline whether Bouchard normally returns to Winnipeg on Sunday or Monday.
St-Hilaire said when Bouchard is in Montreal on a Friday she is working. "She says to people, 'I'm on call 24-7...,'" the spokeswoman said.
Tom Carson, chair of the St. Boniface Hospital board of directors, said Bouchard's contract with the hospital is silent about her ability to commute home on weekends.
"There's nothing in her contract that prohibits her from doing that kind of thing either," he said.
Carson emphasized that the board is pleased with Bouchard's work.
"There is no issue with the quality and time of service she gives the hospital," said Carson, a former provincial deputy minister of health. "There is absolutely no doubt that we get more than 40 hours a week out of her...I've been a senior manager for a very long time and I don't know how anybody produces the way she does."
A Manitoba woman said her 63-year-old mother died in surgery after waiting more than four hours in the St. Boniface Hospital emergency room last Wednesday, the same day the hospital was directing visitors away from its chaotic ER due to a shortage of hospital beds.
The hospital did not disclose Bouchard's salary. However, in addition to her pay, Bouchard has her commutes covered by the institution's sponsoring organization, the Catholic Health Corp. of Manitoba, St-Hilaire confirmed.
"No public funds are used," she said of the travel perk.
A roundtrip flight on Air Canada, departing Winnipeg this Thursday and returning on Sunday, starts at $1,069, according to the airline's website.
Bouchard holds a master's in nursing from the University of Montreal. She came to Manitoba with more than 20 years of experience in health care administration.
She succeeded Dr. Bruce Roe as St. Boniface president and CEO. Roe left the hospital to take on the position of chief medical officer at the WRHA. He has since left that position.
The president of the Manitoba Nurses Union did not respond directly when asked for her comment about Bouchard's commutes.
Darlene Jackson did say, however, that nurses at St. Boniface and other hospitals are facing increased workloads as a result of health cuts and closures.
She said there also seems to be "a growing disconnect between what WRHA executives are saying and the realities of the front-lines," and that isn't sitting well with nurses.
The MNU said that from Jan. 1 to March 31 of this year, St. Boniface nurses worked 27,534 hours of overtime, including both voluntary and mandatory OT. In 2018, St. B nurses worked 140,531 hours of overtime, compared with 93,726 the previous year. Mandatory overtime increased by 475 per cent in 2018.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.