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CEO fired in shakeup at Windsor's Hotel-Dieu

WINDSOR, Ont. – Earlier this month, Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital CEO Warren Chant (pictured) was fired by the hospital’s provincially appointed supervisor, the Windsor Star has reported. Ken Deane, who took control of the hospital in January, said the decision to remove Chant was based on impressions of how the hospital was run and feedback from staff and management.

While calling Chant “a sincere, considerate, principled person with high integrity,” Deane said Hotel-Dieu is more likely to regain public confidence and trust with a new CEO.

Deane was sent in by Health Minister Deb Matthews to fix long-standing problems with the workplace culture at Hotel-Dieu and help the hospital implement sweeping recommendations made last year in a ministry report on surgical and pathology errors.

Two unnecessary mastectomies performed by Dr. Barbara Heartwell and the resignation of pathologist Dr. Olive Williams after mistakes were discovered in her work thrust Hotel-Dieu into the national spotlight and prompted a ministry investigation, which ultimately highlighted cultural issues at the hospital. With a focus on turning Hotel-Dieu around, Deane said his first two months in Windsor convinced him change at the top was necessary.

“A CEO plays a vitally important role in the organization and in the community,” he said. “I thought, given where we’re at, the hospital and the community would be best served with a new leader.... Not every leader meets everybody’s expectations.”

Deane’s decision was supported by Matthews, who said in a statement: “I trust the supervisor to make the decisions necessary to help the hospital keep moving forward with improvements. Ultimately, I know that Ken Deane is acting in the best interest of Windsor patients.”

Under provincial legislation, a hospital supervisor assumes the authority of the board of directors and has the power to remove the CEO. In a written statement, Chant said he’s disappointed to be leaving, but respects Deane’s decision.

“I have always wanted what was best for the staff, physicians and volunteers at Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital and the community it serves,” Chant said. “It is my sincere belief that this hospital will continue to provide excellent care and compassion to our patients and our families for many years to come because of all the fine and professional people working here.

“I am thankful for my successful career in serving the healthcare sector for 34 years, the last 18 of which as CEO. I remain proud of the people I have worked with and all that we have accomplished.”

Chant was hired as Hotel-Dieu CEO in the summer of 2009 following a nationwide search. Prior to that, he was the CEO of Leamington District Memorial Hospital and held senior management positions in other hospitals, including Sick Kids in Toronto.

According to the report in the Windsor Star, sources told the newspaper that while Chant’s resume and references were impressive, he fell short of being the kind of leader Hotel-Dieu needed as it tried to deal with one public relations fiasco after another last year. Chant also didn’t know how to address conflicts among the hospital’s medical leaders, administration and the board, sources said.

At one point, the hospital hired a professional management coach in an effort to turn Chant into a more effective leader, but the coach quit in frustration, The Star was told.

Chant was also singled out in a $3.3-million wrongful dismissal lawsuit launched against the hospital by its former vice-president of communications Kim Spirou after she was fired in December. In the suit, Spirou alleged Chant pressured her to cover up wrongdoing at Hotel-Dieu. The allegations have not been proven in court and it was not clear how Chant’s dismissal will affect the legal proceedings.

Chant leaves Hotel-Dieu with an undisclosed severance package. He earned $316,061.77 in 2009, according to the latest available public salary disclosure list. He made roughly half of that at the Leamington hospital.

Chant’s departure is the first major shakeup since Deane’s appointment as supervisor. The search for a new leader will not begin immediately and Deane will not be appointing an interim CEO. Instead, Pat Somers, Hotel-Dieu’s senior vice-president of patient services and chief nursing executive, will take charge of day-to-day operations.

“I want the organization to settle for a bit,” Deane said, adding that he’s not planning any other changes in senior administration.

In the meantime, Deane said he will forge ahead with “governance and organizational renewal” at Hotel-Dieu, but he wouldn’t elaborate or say whether that includes a new board of directors.

In late January, Deane turned the board members into his advisers, since he is now effectively the board. Sources say he’s considering bringing in a new board before the new CEO is hired and will also evaluate the role of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, which founded Hotel-Dieu more than 100 years ago. The Hospitallers stirred up controversy when they suddenly removed Hotel-Dieu board chairman Egidio Sovran days before Deane’s arrival in Windsor.

Posted March 24, 2011