October 23, 2020

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Criticized hospital CEO quarantines at home

St. Boniface Hospital CEO, Martine Bouchard, has been self-isolating in Winnipeg since August 17. Bouchard had faced criticism for not without self-isolating when she returned to the hospital August. 10 after working from Montréal for three months. (Sasha Sefter / Winnipeg Free Press)

St. Boniface Hospital CEO, Martine Bouchard, has been self-isolating in Winnipeg since August 17. Bouchard had faced criticism for not without self-isolating when she returned to the hospital August. 10 after working from Montréal for three months. (Sasha Sefter / Winnipeg Free Press)

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A Winnipeg hospital executive, criticized for failing to self-isolate after arriving in the city from her Montreal home earlier this month, is now in quarantine and plans to spend more time in the Manitoba capital.

St. Boniface Hospital confirmed Wednesday that its president and CEO, Martine Bouchard, has been self-isolating in Winnipeg since Aug. 17.

She was the subject of sharp criticism when it was learned that she had returned to the hospital Aug. 10, after an absence of more than three months, without self-isolating. She had been doing her job from Montreal, which has been hard hit by COVID-19. Persons travelling to Manitoba from eastern Canada are required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Micheline St-Hilaire, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said Bouchard has been "working virtually" from her home in Winnipeg and plans to spend more time in the city. Since she was hired in April 2018, she's commuted to her home in Montreal most weekends.

"Regarding future travel, her intent is to make every effort to extend her stays in Winnipeg, as often as possible, especially as she and our Executive continue to monitor and respond to the unfolding pandemic," St-Hilaire said in an email Wednesday to the Free Press.

While frontline health care workers and other essential workers are exempt from self-isolation upon return from COVID-19 hotspots, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has said hospital executives "are not automatically exempted," while the province's chief public health officer says there are no exceptions to the rules for any individual.

Bouchard's decision to return to her hospital office earlier this month without self-isolating caused a furore. A former head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, commenting on the situation, said it could be "a career-limiting move."

Bouchard's decision not to plant down roots in Winnipeg after taking on the big hospital administration job had already ruffled feathers in Manitoba. In 2019, she was paid $283,481.

On Wednesday, both the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Health Minister Cameron Friesen declined to comment on Bouchard's decision to self-isolate and to travel less frequently to her Montreal home.

After Bouchard returned to the hospital on Aug. 10 without self-isolating, the WRHA said that she was "adhering to all physical distancing and infection prevention and control precautions, including wearing a mask." It noted that while her contract allowed her to travel to her home in Eastern Canada on a weekly basis, Bouchard would "determine her travel frequency based on the situation here and at home."

Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said in a statement Wednesday that it is "encouraging" that the CEO of the province's second largest hospital has been self-isolating in Winnipeg and plans to spend more time here going forward.

"Nurses expect health officials to lead by example and follow the same rules they prescribe to Manitobans," Jackson said. "Although we appreciate the challenges with remote work, we all have to make adjustments to our routines in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In this instance, it is advisable to minimize travel as much as possible, and follow all public health protocols, including the two week self-isolation policy when arriving from non-exempt jurisdictions such as Quebec."

Neil McArthur, head of the philosophy department at the University of Manitoba and formerly the director of the university's Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, said he's glad to see that Bouchard "has decided she is not exempt from public health regulations."

"It would be nice to see an explicit affirmation from (health officials) that they will require all employees to abide under all circumstances with the government’s public health orders," McArthur said. "This should never have been considered a matter of individual discretion in the first place."

Meanwhile, in a late-day statement sent through her hospital's communications department, Bouchard did not admit to breaking any rules earlier in the month when she arrived in Manitoba and went directly to her office.

"As President & CEO of St. Boniface Hospital, I am firmly committed to the patients and staff at St. Boniface Hospital and I feel it is paramount to go the extra mile beyond public health advice I received related to self-isolation," she said. "This decision is an important one as we prepare for what may come next during the COVID-19 pandemic."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

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.

   Read full biography

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