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.