Hamilton

'He's my boss:' Hospital president knew of CEO's Dominican vacation but couldn't stop it

The president of St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton says she knew Dr. Tom Stewart, the now-former CEO and president of its broader hospital network, was going on a Dominican vacation for the holidays, but was powerless to stop him because "he's my boss."

'My choice, as was the choice of the entire executive team, was to stay local,' Melissa Farrell

Questions about Dr. Tom Stewart's international vacation during the holidays, against public health guidance to stay home, came up during a town hall meeting one day before he lost his spot as CEO at St. Joseph's Health System in Hamilton. (St. Joseph's Health System)

The president of St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton says she knew Dr. Tom Stewart, the now-former CEO and president of its broader hospital network, was going on a Dominican vacation for the holidays, but was powerless to stop him because "he's my boss."

"I know how disappointing this decision is, really for all of us. Tom is the CEO at the system level, this is not something that I would approve. You know, he's my boss," Melissa Farrell said in response to questions during a Wednesday town hall meeting.

"I can understand how this feels, it's unfair, it feels hurtful."

Farrell said in a statement on Friday "My choice, as was the choice of the entire executive team, was to stay local and work with our healthcare teams."

While Stewart's vacation was approved, it's unclear how many others — particularly those with authority over him — knew he was heading to the Caribbean and who, if anyone, tried to stop him.

The town hall came one day before St. Joe's announced Stewart was no longer CEO, adding to several health leadership roles he's lost in two days.

CEO's vacation abroad caused 'pure frustration'

The meeting was focused on vaccines but began and ended by addressing Stewart's vacation. 

One day after the meeting, Susan Thornton who works at St. Joe's West 5th hospital on the Nursing Resource Team and is a CUPE Local 786 member, said staff have been enraged ever since learning about Stewart's vacation.

"Melissa was very good, but there's pure frustration and it's an embarrassment as an employee," said the 63-year-old worker who has been at St. Joe's for more than three decades.

Melissa Farrell, president of St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, says she knew her boss Dr. Tom Stewart — who was the CEO of the entire hospital network — was going on vacation to the Dominican Republic, but couldn't stop him. (St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton/YouTube)

Concerns have also been raised about whether Stewart was getting paid while he was isolating after returning to Canada from his private home in the Dominican Republic — unlike some staff.

CUPE Local 786 president Santo Cimino says full-time workers get paid sick time but part-time workers don't.

Farrell was asked about this during the Wednesday town hall meeting but said she had no influence in that decision.

"That's really between Tom and the system board for which he works," she said.

Cimino sent her a letter, obtained by CBC News, on Thursday.

"Your staff ... have been redeployed, internally and into long-term care. They have worked extended shifts and compulsory overtime. Their weekends off and vacations have been cancelled or not approved. They work with the constant fear and risk that they can bring the virus home to their families. But they soldier on," read the letter.

The letter suggested St. Joe's provide sick pay for those who get COVID-19 and provide paid time off for anyone who needs to isolate — but hours after Cimino sent the letter, Stewart was no longer CEO.

Stewart's vacation, which began on Dec. 18, occurred while facilities in his hospital networks fought off outbreaks. It also started a day after his hospital networks asked the Ford government to be more decisive about lockdown measures.

He was removed as CEO of Niagara Health on Wednesday. It was previously paying $140,000 annually for CEO services from St. Joe's. Niagara Health says there's a provision for 90 days notice to end the agreement, and details about the cancelled deal are under discussion.

On Tuesday, hours after the public learned of his vacation, Stewart resigned from a number of health advisory boards including a COVID-19 panel that advises Premier Doug Ford. 

He has also faced previous controversy during his time as chief of staff at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital.

Stewart resigned from that position in 2012 after a Toronto Star investigation revealed the hospital paid ORNGE CEO Chris Mazza $256,000 for consulting work without proof the work was completed.

Hospital staff 'relieved' Stewart out of CEO role

Cimino said Friday morning, staff were relieved to hear Stewart will no longer be CEO.

"With him being gone, we hope the hospital will [realize] how serious of a morale problem this has caused," he said.

"I hope it does bring us closer together."

Despite this, questions linger around if Stewart resigned or was fired — and if the hospital network is required to pay him for 24 months, which adds up to more than $1 million.

About the Author

Bobby Hristova

Reporter/Editor

Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca

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