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After working exclusively from her home in Montreal since April, the president and chief executive officer of St. Boniface Hospital, Martine Bouchard, returned Monday to her office in Winnipeg — without first undergoing a two-week period of self-isolation.

She was to have flown Thursday back to Montreal, sources say.

According to Manitoba provincial health orders, essential workers such as health-care providers, police officers, long-haul truck drivers and elected officials, are exempt from having to self-isolate after travelling to Eastern Canada, but there is no specific dispensation for hospital administrators.

Bouchard, who took over as the chief administrator of the province's second-largest hospital a little more than two years ago, has previously made news for the fact she does not live in Winnipeg, usually spends just four days a week at the hospital and has recently been away from the institution for an extended period during COVID-19 pandemic.

She earned $283,481 in 2019.

Bouchard makes her home in Verdun, a borough of Montreal.

As of Wednesday, Montreal had recorded 29,317 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 3,462 deaths. According to Montreal health statistics, Verdun has had more cases and logged more deaths per 100,000 population than the city average.

For the past two weeks, St. Boniface Hospital has refused to answer questions about Bouchard's whereabouts. Board chairman Tom Carson has not replied to repeated requests for comment.

In late June, Carson defended Bouchard's decision to work for weeks on end from her Quebec home. He said she had returned to Quebec at the end of April to attend to a family emergency.

With her home province severely affected by the pandemic, the hospital CEO was unable to return to Winnipeg "without major risk issues," he said.

Carson also said at the time Bouchard would likely return to Winnipeg by August, if not sooner, as the first wave of COVID-19 subsided. He noted if Bouchard were to return, she would have to self-isolate for 14 days.

The province recently flirted with the idea of ending the self-isolation requirement for people entering Manitoba from Eastern Canada, but decided against it after a public backlash.

It's not clear if Bouchard has received any special exemption from self-isolation.

In a brief statement late Thursday, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said: "While hospital executives are not automatically exempted from self-isolation, in certain situations asymptomatic health-care workers are able to return to work following travel with appropriate precautions in place."

The WRHA said Bouchard, while at work, is "adhering to all physical distancing and infection prevention and control precautions, including wearing a mask."

The health authority said she is also "maximizing the use of virtual meetings which have been a regular part of day-to-day work since the beginning of the pandemic." It said while her contract with the hospital allows her to travel to Eastern Canada on a weekly basis, "she will determine her travel frequency based on the situation here and at home."

Asked for comment, Health Minister Cameron Friesen issued a one-line statement: "This matter is being addressed by the CEO of the WRHA (Vickie Kaminski), and the WRHA holds the accountability for the St. Boniface Hospital."

Asked for her response, Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said due in part to out-of-province travel and loosened economic restrictions, Manitoba has experienced a dramatic rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

She said in an email nurses are deeply concerned about this trend as fall approaches and schools reopen.

"Manitobans have been told that many COVID-19 cases are due to returning out-of-province travellers, and that strict adherence to 14-day self-isolation from non-exempt jurisdictions is critical for mitigating the spread of the virus," Jackson said.

"Nurses, like all Manitobans, expect public health leaders to lead by example, and the CEO of St. Boniface Hospital should be no exception."

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.

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