Millroy: SAH CEO Under Fire For B.C. Trip – And Should Be!

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Sault Area Hospital CEO and President Wendy Hansson has been under fire for travelling to B.C. during the pandemic to attend medical appointments and visit immediate family. She should be.

And the fire should actually extend to SAH board Chair Sharon Kirkpatrick, who apparently was aware and supportive of the travel arrangements.

With the pandemic raging and the government and health agencies imploring people to only travel if it is essential, this is a time for leadership.

With her trip Hansson, who sits atop the SAH hierarchy, showed anything but
The hospital sent out a brief media release on Jan. 10 saying:

“Sault Area Hospital (SAH) President and CEO, Wendy Hansson, who lives alone in Sault Ste. Marie, travelled to visit her immediate family in British Columbia and attend prearranged medical appointments with clinicians with whom she has had long-standing relationships.”

“Sault Area Hospital’s Board Chair was aware and supportive of the travel arrangements, given the separation from her immediate family and for medical purposes.”

“Ms. Hansson followed public health guidelines and mitigated risk by isolating with her immediate household and is following post-travel self-isolation.”

“Prior to travel, plans were developed to ensure that the CEO would immediately return to the community if hospital operational requirements shifted.  SAH has protocols and practices to ensure continuity of operations in the event of absences by leadership.”

“Sault Area Hospital will not be commenting further at this time.”

SAH did not put out the media release to be transparent. It put it out after a request for information on the travel by SooToday.

Jeffrey Ougler of The Sault Star attempted to find out the frequency of Hansson’s travels and how long she was away, legitimate questions, but he said in a follow-up story that SAH “remains mum.” I really wouldn’t expect anything else.

Other than answering the two simple questions, what else would it have to say? It was caught out, plain and simple. Speaking out would only keep the story alive.

The Ontario Nurses Association, which represents 619 SAH employees, said this week in reaction to the news that during the pandemic public health guidelines must apply to everyone, whether members of the public, front-line health-care workers, politicians or senior leaders at health-care institutions. I agree.

Saultonline found the public came down on both sides in regard to Hansson’s travel. Some examples:

“This woman came here from British Columbia. She has a relationship with her medical professional there. Was it a good time to go? No, but she wasn’t lying on a beach somewhere.” – Tammy Martinsen.

“While I have no issues with travel for medical appointments or procedures, I DO object to the fact that one of the purposes of the trip was to visit immediate family.” – Travis Valois.

“Like she is the only one in the Soo separated from their family” – Robert Charles.

“Her actions along with the Board of SAH are despicable. She along with the board should be removed without severance. If it was one of the amazing hard-working staff members they would be fired. What’s good for the Goose, is good for the Gander, no?” – Brent Labine.

The media release said that Hansson lives alone in the Sault, seeming to think that would serve as an excuse for her travel. It won’t.

Nor will the claim that she was to attend prearranged medical appointments with clinicians with whom she has had long-standing relationships. A lot of people who move to another centre leave long-standing relationship behind but they make new ones rather than travelling half-way across the country to continue the old.

Hansson has been at SAH since July 3, 2019. That should have been ample time, considering she is head of a hospital, to get any required medical treatment lined up here.

Hansson is not alone in flouting the suggested rules regarding travel during the pandemic. There are numerous stories about people who should know better doing it.

Paul Woods was let go from his position as CEO of the London Health Sciences Centre after news broke a couple of weeks back that he had made five trips to visit family in the United States, despite the recommendations against travel during the pandemic. Woods has since lodged a $2.5 million lawsuit against the Health Sciences Centre, part of it being $1.4 million for what he terms “the bad faith termination.”

Global News reported that Woods, a Canadian citizen who holds permanent residency status in the United States, claims he informed board chair Amy Walby of his proposed travel plans and that he had her approval.

The board had said originally that it was “aware Dr. Woods continued to travel for personal reasons given the separation from his immediate family.” But in a follow-up statement, it clarified that while it was “aware of Dr. Woods’s personal circumstances,” it was not given advanced notice of, nor did it approve, Woods’ travel outside of Canada.

However, the statement of claim includes copies of emails in which Walby responded to Woods’s plans to go to the U.S. by saying:

“I think it is reasonable to afford some ability to see loved ones at the cost of working remotely for 2 weeks, as long as it is not too frequent. One visit every two months seems to hit the mark as a (painful) compromise. I support what you need to do on this. I don’t think the Board needs to approve but we can give them a heads up.”

I don’t think Hansson should be fired. But it should be made clear to her and Chair Kirkpatrick that the trip at issue should be Hansson’s last during the pandemic. Anytime anyone leaves the Sault there is a possibility of bringing something back upon return. We don’t need that.

And in Hansson’s case, considering her position, the optics are very, very bad.

7 COMMENTS

  1. For the trip alone, she absolutely should be fired. As should any board members who condoned the trip(s?). The fired heads of other hospitals were terminated for the same reason – why should anyone go easy on her when she undertook the exact same idiotic action? And how is everyone not completely blown away by her breezy lack of transparency surrounding her actions? There is a pandemic happening. She heads up a hospital during a pandemic. The government said not to travel. She travelled for no reason. She broke the rules – not even to mention the trust of the community! – and should absolutely lose her job. And what has happened since…? The apathy folks hold in this area remains the most astonishing thing.

  2. I for one have cancelled a trip for warmer climates 3 times so far this winter due to the covid numbers. However all this travel fiasco is the government’s fault. What type of policy discourages non essential travel yet leaves it up to the public and media in terms of shaming as a deterrent and furthermore fails to define non essential. Total nonsense. If you don’t want people to travel then cancel the flights instead of playing these little games. The people who continue to shame those that are not doing anything illegal by travelling are usually doing it due to jealousy, not concern for anyone’s safety.

  3. Perhaps SAH CEO/President Wendy Hansson should just continue to live in B.C. close to her family and longstanding medical professionals, and perform her SAH duties remotely. Why exactly do we need her here if she is prepared to be so callous about the threat that her travel poses her staff and our community? I mean if the Board can develop a contingency plan to operate our hospital without its president and CEO while she is away on vacation then surely they can use the same contingency plan on a continuous basis while she does her work from B.C.

    It’s a win win.

    Besides, if she really thought her travel was so appropriate, and wanted to get some sort of Board approval then why didn’t she seek the permission of the Board in an open meeting that the media could have reported on at the time of her request?

    Maybe she knew what she was doing wasn’t appropriate. You know, kind of like so many Sault family members who came up to the Sault during Christmas and caused our Covid-19 cases to spike.

    And perhaps that’s why she only sought the opinion of the Board Chair in a private conversation, or maybe she thinks her private actions are none of the Board’s no matter how job-related they are, and how badly those actions jeopardize the health and safety of her staff and our community.

    I still like the idea of her working remotely from B.C. until she gets the medical professionals she needs to fully live her life here in Sault Ste. Marie. This pandemic isn’t going away any time soon, and especially not with people travelling willy nilly across the country so she will definitely need to see her medical professionals again before this thing is over.

    Oh yeah, the Board Chair should have just said, “No, it’s not appropriate. Have phone appointments like the rest of our community.”

    Peace out.

  4. It’s not just the optics ,Doug. When I read her statement about the recent death due to Covid it just rings so hollow to me.. If she actually cared in the least she would never have left the Soo at this harrowing point in time, for any reason.. Doctors appointments is such a lame excuse.. The rich get richer, and the poor just keep dieing….

  5. I’m sad, frustrated, scared and yes, lonely. I’m trying hard to take care of me and mine. I read in the news about all the privileged people who are flaunting the rules, regulations, safeguards. And right here in little Sault Ste. Marie we have our AHU condoning, allowing, religious meetings at a local hotel, basketball players from a red zone meeting here, and now the CEO of our hospital going to meet and greet in BC. How sad is that! And what do they say….it’s okay, we allowed it and we’re not answering any questions about it.
    Seems there’s different rules for different folks. And then you wonder why there is non-compliance.

  6. The covid pandemic should be a massive wake-up call to every Canadian, about:
    -how poor our personal hygiene is
    -how poorly prepared our governments were
    -how hypocritical our governments and administrators are
    -how little our leadership cares for Canadians but more for the international stage
    -how their focus has largely been on taxation and media control throughout the pandemic
    Suicides, bankruptcies, businesses foreclosures, crime, etc have been the highest ever in Canadian history yet the government continues to push forward with tax increases, international travel for vacations.
    If this was happening in other countries there would be massive revolts, riots, protests…
    Our governments are lucky Canadians have turned into a complacent and lazy country.

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