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Letter to Minister of Health requesting intervention re. hospital manager who defied public health guidelines

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OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas sent the following letter to Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health today requesting her intervention regarding a hospital manager at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre who defied public health guidelines by vacationing abroad.

February 8, 2021

Hon. Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health
College Park, 5th Floor
777 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M7A 2J3

Re:  Requesting intervention re. hospital manager who defied public health guidelines

Dear Minister Elliott,

It has come to our attention that Joan Garrow, a Director at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre vacationed abroad over the holidays, defying public health guidelines to avoid unnecessary travel. I am writing to request your immediate intervention on the matter.

As the union representing workers at the Royal, we were deeply disturbed by revelations that Garrow not only defied public health rules but was permitted to work from home during her two-week quarantine, despite a memo to staff saying they would not be granted such permission. While staff are putting themselves in harm’s way every day, this director has been rewarded for breaking the rules.

To add insult to injury, Garrow has shown a shocking lack of support for her own staff with family demands during this difficult time. When the province announced stay-at-home orders, it took more than a week for her relevant staff to be sent home to work, and only after they approached the senior management team.

She’s taken no personal responsibility and has shown a complete disregard for the concerns expressed by staff, citing senior management’s prior knowledge of her vacation plans.

This goes beyond poor judgement by the director and by the President/CEO and her senior management team; it has created a double standard that erodes the public and staff’s trust in hospital leadership and it sets a dangerous precedent.

Ontario’s government and public health agencies have put strict rules in place for a reason – to stem the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. The public is being asked to make significant sacrifices for the greater good, and hospital management must surely be held to the highest possible standard.

But after reaching out directly to the hospital’s President/CEO Joanne Bezzubetz on this matter, I was disturbed – although not surprised – by the lack of seriousness and urgency in her response. Her “assurances” hold little weight when “employee privacy” is being used to suppress accountability.

Unfortunately, Garrow has lost the trust of the public, the people who work at the Royal Ottawa and the patients they support. Allowing her to continue in her position is a slippery slope – by whatever available means, she must be let go.

Others in positions of power who have been caught vacationing abroad during the pandemic have been penalized for their actions. The Royal Ottawa’s hospital administration appears unwilling to take action, which is why your intervention is needed – to uphold the rules and send a clear message that this behavior won’t be tolerated, especially by those in leadership positions.

COVID fatigue is real, but if we want to see the other side of this pandemic, we’ve all got to play by the rules – your government has been clear on this. Senior health officials must be held to a higher standard and lead by example, because our public health and safety depends on it. Now’s the time for swift action against the rule breakers, because lives depend on it.

Sincerely,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, OPSEU/SEFPO

C.
Joanne Bezzubetz, President and CEO
The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre