THE St. Boniface Hospital president’s prolonged absence from Winnipeg raises concerns about “who’s directing traffic” at the large institution, the Manitoba NDP health critic says.

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THE St. Boniface Hospital president’s prolonged absence from Winnipeg raises concerns about "who’s directing traffic" at the large institution, the Manitoba NDP health critic says.

Martine Bouchard has been overseeing the hospital’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic from her Montreal home since the end of April. She’s not expected to return to Manitoba until August, the Free Press reported earlier this week.

Uzoma Asagwara said Bouchard’s absence raises questions about whether situations at the hospital are being assessed accurately, how decisions are being made, and the effectiveness of those decisions.

The NDP MLA noted Tory Premier Brian Pallister has found it necessary to travel to Ottawa during the pandemic, reasoning he can only do so much business with federal officials over the telephone.

As useful as Zoom and other online communication platforms are, "it’s critically important" for leaders to be on the ground and accessible, Asagwara said Thursday.

"We’re talking about a hospital that’s undergone significant changes in the last several years," the MLA said. "Certainly, right before this pandemic, they were still reeling from dealing with the conversion of two flus, understaffing issues, and challenges in the emergency room."

Hospital chairman Tom Carson said the institution’s board of directors has been "very happy" with the way Bouchard and her team have been operating during the pandemic.

Bouchard returned to Quebec at the end of April to attend to a family emergency, Carson said earlier this week. With Quebec the most seriously affected province by the pandemic, the hospital CEO is unable to return to Winnipeg "without major risk issues," he said.

Bouchard, who earned $283,481 in 2019, was criticized last year for commuting to her Montreal home on weekends, sometimes spending as few as four days a week in Winnipeg.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said it would be preferable for anyone heading a hospital or a Crown corporation to live in Manitoba full time.

However, he was reluctant to criticize Bouchard for staying in Montreal during the pandemic, saying it’s possible to work from home.

"We probably shouldn’t be bringing people from the single-worst (COVID) hot spot in Canada to go work in a hospital," Lamont said.

"It’s unusual. These are unusual times. And it would be preferable if she were working here full-time but, ultimately, I think that’s a decision for the (hospital) board to make."

— Larry Kusch

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.