For the past two months, the head of St. Boniface Hospital has been overseeing her facility's response to the COVID-19 pandemic from her Montreal home and she won't be returning to Winnipeg until August.
This comes after president and CEO Martine Bouchard was criticized last year for commuting to Quebec on weekends, sometimes spending as few as four days a week in the Manitoba capital.
Bouchard took the helm of the province's second largest hospital a little over two years ago. She earned $283,481 in 2019.
The hospital's board chair, Tom Carson, confirms Bouchard hasn't been at the facility since April, but he's signed off on the work arrangement.
"Basically, 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," he said in a telephone interview.
Carson said Bouchard left the city at the end of April to attend to "a family emergency."
With Quebec "an epicentre of COVID" in Canada, he said, the CEO is unable to return to Winnipeg "without major risk issues."
"As the first wave of the pandemic subsides, she will be back in Winnipeg -- and that's likely in August or the very near future," Carson said, depending on public health rules.
If Bouchard were to return to Winnipeg from Quebec now, she would have to self-isolate for 14 days, he said.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Bouchard had been commuting between Montreal and Winnipeg. In the past, Carson has defended Bouchard's commutes, saying she's on call 24-7.
"She is in constant contact. She is right now on a conference call with her executive team." – Board chair Tom Carson
A portion of the CEO's compensation is paid with private funds through the Catholic Health Corp of Manitoba, the hospital's sponsor. No public funds are used to cover Bouchard's commuting expenses, Carson has said.
On Tuesday morning he said that the hospital's board is "fine" with its CEO working from Montreal during the pandemic.
"She is in constant contact. She is right now on a conference call with her executive team," he said.
Bouchard did not respond to a request for an interview.
A spokeswoman for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority declined comment.
A spokesman for Health Minister Cameron Friesen also declined comment, referring the Free Press to the hospital's board of directors.
In addition to preparing for a potentially serious COVID-19 outbreak, St. Boniface Hospital has been planning the redevelopment and expansion of its emergency department, after receiving the go ahead from the province late last year.
"She's been heavily involved in all of that," Carson said of Bouchard. "There has been no impact on her ability to do her job, from our perspective."
Asked for comment, Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said nurses understand that working remotely is an important part of slowing the spread of COVID-19.
In a statement, Jackson said it's also incumbent upon the leadership of St. Boniface Hospital to ensure it is "fully connected with what's happening at the hospital" in the midst of a pandemic.
"Health care inherently requires nurses and other care providers to be present every day to care for their patients. In turn, to ensure that patients and staff are receiving the best support possible, we would hope that the president is able to maintain a presence in the facility, especially in anticipation of a second wave," the MNU president said.
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