When it comes to Dominic Giroux, some are critical, some are complimentary and many just don’t want to talk about it.
In the wake of a highly critical report from Ontario’s auditor general over Giroux’s leadership of Laurentian University, Sudbury.com reached out to several people and organizations to see if, given Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s findings, there were any concerns about Giroux being the CEO and president of Northern Ontario’s largest hospital, Health Sciences North.
Giroux was president and vice-chancellor of Laurentian University from 2009 to 2017, when he left to take over the hospital.
In the wake of the university filing for CCAA on Feb. 1, 2021, the Public Accounts Committee of the Ontario Legislature requested a value-for-money audit of Laurentian by Lysyk for the 10-year period of 2010 to 2020, which covers most of Giroux’s tenure running the university.
In a scathing preliminary report released in April, Lysyk laid much of the blame for the university’s deterioration at the feet of senior administration, namely Giroux, although he was not named in the prelim report, and repeated the statement in her full, 117-page special report on Laurentian, which was released this month.
You can read the report here.
A press release issued alongside the report stated Laurentian's overdependence on external legal and financial advisors led to the “unsuitable and damaging choice” to seek creditor protection using a legal process designed for private sector entities.
That decision was made because the taxpayer-funded university was in a perilous financial position, resulting largely from a series of “questionable strategic decisions” made by senior administration and a “lack of competent financial oversight and transparency” from the board of governors, said the press release from Lysyk.
“Although Laurentian’s operations were impacted by several external factors, the main cause of its financial decline from 2010 to 2020 was its poorly planned and costly capital expansion and modernization,” said Lysyk, in the report’s overall conclusion.
“As the university began to amass more than $87 million in debt to pay for this capital expansion, the senior administration exacerbated the situation by making a series of questionable financial and operational decisions, including amending its internal policies to allow it to incur even more debt and increasing its senior administration’s costs.
“The poor management of the university’s financial affairs and operations was allowed to continue because of weak Board governance and Ministry oversight.
“Laurentian did not have to file for CCAA protection in response to its financial decline. Instead of following precedent and making a robust effort to secure government assistance to build an effective go-forward plan or work transparently with its unions, Laurentian, on the advice of external counsel, chose to file for creditor protection under CCAA.”
Given Lysyk’s findings that poor management — and Giroux, as head of the institution, was the top manager at Laurentian — led to the near-destruction of the university, Sudbury.com reached out to several notable people and organizations to see if they had concerns about Giroux serving as head of Health Sciences North, given his track record at Laurentian.
Perhaps not surprisingly, HSN board of directors Chair Daniel Giroux (no relation) said in a statement to media he had full confidence in Dominic Giroux as head of the hospital.
"The HSN Board has full confidence in the leadership of its President and CEO,” a statement from Giroux reads. “When Dominic Giroux took over five years ago, HSN was incurring a deficit of $1 million per month. HSN incurred a surplus from hospital operations from 2018-19 to 2021-22 totalling $7 million over four years.
"As of March 31, 2022, HSN’s cash position and net assets are at their highest levels since 1999. With the support of many, Dominic has done an excellent job co-chairing the pandemic response for the health sector in Northern Ontario at the request of Ontario Health.
"Since he took the helm back in 2017, HSN secured a favourable third-party validation of its approved 2018 budget, operating funding for 198 hospital beds in Greater Sudbury, final approvals for the PET-CT, provincial approval for a second MRI, a Stage 1 planning grant for our capital redevelopment, $21.6 million from the Province for the Labelle Innovation and Learning Centre, $3.4 million to relocate the Children’s Treatment Centre to Southridge Mall and $10 million for renovations to open 52 new beds by 2023.
“A 20-year Capital Master Plan was developed and endorsed by Ontario Health. Our foundations are working closely together more than ever before and already raised $19 million for the local share of Phase 1 of our capital redevelopment. We succeeded in securing support from all acute hospitals in the North East to implement a regional electronic medical record by 2024.
"As well, today HSN performs at or above the average of Ontario hospitals on 13 of 19 indicators tracked by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. It is recognized by Ontario Health as No. 1 on quality improvement indicators among Ontario’s 14 regional cancer programs. Therefore, the Board is extremely confident in the job Dominic has done as CEO — a job that was recently validated by being chosen by his peers to be the Chair of the Ontario Hospital Association at a time of great challenge in Ontario’s health care sector.”
While the HSN board chair provided a glowing review of Giroux, others refused to offer any opinion whatsoever, including Greater Sudbury Mayor Paul Lefebvre.
"Mayor Lefebvre is not able to speak to this," said a response from spokesperson Kelly Brooks of the city hall communications office. “This question would be better directed to the organizations involved.”
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, which has a political action office in Sudbury, also refused to weigh in.
“We do not wish to comment on the situation at LU at this time. Thank you for your interest,” said an email from RNAO Sudbury representative Maria Casas.
Dr. Sarita Verma, the president, dean and CEO of NOSM University, Northern Ontario’s only medical school, said a conflict of interest prevented her from responding.
"I don't think I could have any comments on that to be honest, because I'm on the board of HSNRI (Health Sciences North Research Institute). And I would be in a conflict of interest to comment on anything to do with the individual," said Verma.
The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), an organization that promotes and defends public healthcare in Ontario, said it was not familiar enough with the situation to respond.
"I just spoke with (executive director) Natalie Mehra, and she doesn't know enough about the situation to comment on it. Sorry about that,” said Salah Shadir, the administration and operations manager for the OHC. “Thank you again for reaching out to us.”
About the only person contacted by Sudbury.com willing to provide any sort of opinion was Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas, who is also the party’s health critic at Queen’s Park.
Saying she spoke on behalf of herself and Sudbury MPP Jamie West, Gélinas said many of their constituents have reached out to express anger for what they see as Giroux culpability for Laurentian’s decline and concern for what his leadership will mean for Northern Ontario’s largest hospital, HSN..
"Both MPP Jamie West and I have had many angry people reach out to us. Many people are angry at Mr. Giroux," said Gélinas adding that she and West had "received a tonne" of comments.
"I can confirm that a lot of people are not only angry at what happened at Laurentian, but are also very worried that the same person who, as the auditor put, clearly made some decisions that lead to this disaster is still in the decision-making position.
“And that makes them really worried. Some of them are really angry, and a lot of them want revenge," she said.
Gélinas added she has also heard from several hospital workers and health-care professionals in recent days, and they, too, are concerned about the hospital with Giroux at the helm.
"I mean, the people from HSN all tell me like, you can't identify me. I'll lose my job if you do that," Gélinas said. "And I fully respect that. All I can tell you is that it was instantly really intense. And it's still like a daily occurrence. I just hung up the phone with physicians from Health Sciences North and I know that I'll have more tomorrow," she said.
Gélinas added that she had not yet cleared a backlog of messages.
"I'm sure as soon as I'm on (Facebook) Messenger, I will still have many messages of people who are angry, who are worried, who want to make sure our hospital won't be in trouble."
Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.