An Ontario hospital CEO who serves on the province’s COVID-19 science table has been booted from his advisory role after it was revealed that he vacationed in the Dominican Republic as Ontario went into a province-wide lockdown over the holidays.
In a statement Tuesday evening, St. Joseph’s Health System confirmed that its CEO, Dr. Tom Stewart, was out of the country on vacation from Dec. 18 - Jan.5.
“We recognize and value the efforts of all our staff who have been working tirelessly and with great dedication. We encourage and support our staff taking vacation time while following public health advice,” St. Joseph’s Senior Vice President Brian Guest said in the statement.
The statement also included an apology from Stewart.
“I regret this non-essential travel and I’m sorry,” Stewart said. “I recognize everyone should be avoiding non-essential travel now, including me.
“As a health system leader, my actions in no way reflect the tireless dedication and commitment of the staff at St. Joseph’s Health System, who continue to live the legacy of our organization every day.”
St. Joseph’s Health System treats patients in hospitals and long-term care homes in southeastern and southwestern Ontario, including Hamilton, Guelph, Kitchener, and Brantford.
Late Tuesday, the Ministry of Health said Stewart is no longer on the advisory table.
“Helen Angus, Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Health, has accepted Dr. Tom Stewart’s resignation from the Health Coordination Table, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, and the LTC Incident Management System Table,” the ministry said in a statement. “The people of Ontario have made countless sacrifices during the pandemic and it remains critically important that everyone continues to follow public health advice. We all have a part to play to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Stewart is also President and CEO of Niagara Health.
He is the latest public official to be caught vacationing abroad despite public health advice against it because of the pandemic.
Last week MPP Rod Phillips resigned as Ontario's minister of finance after it was discovered that he had taken off on a vacation to the Caribbean island of St. Bart’s on Dec. 13.
Other politicians and officials from various parties across the country have since faced scrutiny about their recent trips abroad.
The trips come at a time when public officials have instituted lockdowns and other drastic measures to keep people from moving about unnecessarily in order to try and contain the virus, and have sparked outrage and charges of hypocrisy.
The federal government has been advising all Canadians against non-essential travel outside of the country for months because of the pandemic and the risk of either inadvertently carrying the virus abroad or bringing it home from somewhere else.
Ontario has recently confirmed six cases of the UK variant of the COVID-19 virus — all of them either directly or indirectly linked to travel. The new variant is thought to be more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus and has sparked concerns about new strains of the virus travelling the globe.
Guest said Stewart will be self-isolating for 14 days, as per protocol for returning travelers.
It’s not yet clear whether he will retain his CEO roles. The Ontario Hospital Association said the hospitals’ boards of directors would ultimately make that decision.
However in a statement the OHA said “health care leaders should follow all public health rules, including guidance regarding non-essential travel, just as we’ve asked of every other Ontarian. Simply put, it is the right thing to do.”