June 27, 2011 — The World Spectator
A year after resigning from the Sun Country Health Region, following the release of details about his past, Hal Schmidt’s is back in a senior position in the health care system.
Schmidt has been employed with three different Canadian health employers in the last fifteen years, leaving a string of incidents in his wake. These issues came to light last June —as he was serving as vice-president of finance for the Sun Country Health Region—when the World-Spectator published a series of articles exposing Schmidt’s questionable past. He was accused of mishandling funds while serving as CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster, B.C. back in the late 1990s. Court documents from 2005 indicate that Schmidt borrowed $75,000 from the hospital—an amount that was never paid back. A civil lawsuit was filed against him, and the court-ordered judgment still remains outstanding.
In 2004, Schmidt was briefly employed as CEO with the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. After 12 weeks, he was fired for misrepresentation when it was discovered that he had lied on his resume—claiming to be a chartered accountant, when he did not have the designation. He then moved on to take a position as vice-president of finance with Sun Country Health Region in Saskatchewan in 2010. After the allegations against him garnered media attention last spring, Schmidt resigned from his position at Sun Country. He was hired again this spring as Executive Director of the H’ulh-etun Health Society in Chemainus, B.C. The organization, located just outside of Victoria, is a private health care agency—not overseen by the B.C. Ministry of Health—and represents the four communities within the Coast Salish First Nation.
“I’m stunned,” says Judy Junor, NDP Health Critic. “A guy with an outstanding judgment in B.C. gets hired there again. They must not have known.”
The World-Spectator received a tip about Schmidt’s new position from a woman in the B.C. community of Halat, who expressed her concern about his hiring. The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she was left with an uneasy feeling after meeting Schmidt for the first time.
“I can’t put my finger on it, but when I met the man, my spidey senses went ‘You are somebody that I don’t think we can trust’ ,” she says. “The more I spoke with the man, the more I got the impression(he thought that) I was one that he needed to watch—because I ask a lot of questions.”
The woman says her suspicions were confirmed after she came across the stories that exposed Schmidt’s previous employment history. She also says she isn’t the only one with uneasy feelings about the new executive director at H’ulh-etun.
“One person became suspicious and asked him about the $75,000 and that’s when Hal said, ‘That was a loan. They used to do that years and years ago. They used to give out loans to their hospital employees and it’s just somebody out to get me. Somebody is out to soil my name’,” she says.
The woman believes the Board of Directors took Schmidt at surface value, and hired him in a time of desperation, as the position of executive director at H’ulh-etun was vacant.
“I don’t think they looked into him close enough (when they hired him). I really don’t. I think he probably dazzled them with talk,” she says. “It truly worries me because there is not a lot of accountability on reserves. There truly isn’t. And that’s the part that’s so unsettling.”
The woman says she does not have malicious intent, but is rather looking out for the best interests of the health society.
“I want people to question his background,” she says. “I just want (the health unit) to start working for the people that it is there for.”
The World-Spectator contacted David Harry, Chair of the Board of Directors at H’ulh-etun Health Socitey, who was taken aback by news of Schmidt’s past.
“This is a bit blind-siding for me, so could you enlighten me where this is coming from?” said Harry in an interview on Wednesday.
When told there were a number of issues regarding Schmidt’s previous employment record, Harry requested printed evidence of the allegations against Schmidt. When asked if he was aware of Schmidt’s history, Harry responded, ”At the time of hiring—no.”
After reading the string of stories that were printed last spring regarding Schmidt’s employment past, Harry said the information was enlightening.
“(The stories) are definitely a little interesting,” he says. “When we hired him, we had taken all the right steps in that process however we thank you for your information. It helps paint a picture on our end and make things a little more clear.”
Harry said the Board of Directors took all the necessary steps when hiring Schmidt by reviewing his resume and inquiring with the references that were provided. When asked if he contacted Schmidt’s most recent employer, Sun Country Health Region, Harry said he had not.
Junor says she doesn’t know of a way that the government can monitor employees with questionable pasts and prevent them from being hired elsewhere.
“It sure begs the question,” she says. “We didn’t know (about Schmidt’s allegations) either—he came from B.C. to Nova Scotia, to Saskatchewan and now back to B.C.”
“He obviously has moved across Canada, but he hasn’t had any accountability,” she says.
Junor admits that it would be hard to regulate the employment records of all health employees—especially when they get involved In private health agencies—but it’s an issue that is worth looking into.
“I think it does speak to ‘How can these people be kept accountable for what they’ve done?’ They can just jump into another jurisdiction and act almost as if they have a clean slate.”
Harry confirms that he had no previous suspicions about Schmidt’s past, but says that they will now be taken in to consideration.
“I want to connect the dots on some of the things that you sent me,” says Harry. “And some of it . . . it sums things up fairly nicely. Let’s put it that way.”
“Your information helps me decide the next steps.”
Harry would not comment on what those steps might be, and when they might occur, but he did confirm that the issue will be addressed with the Board of Directors.
“There will be a conversation in the very near future. The very, very near future,” he said.
Schmidt did not return any phone calls requesting comment last week. As the Executive Director of H’ulh-etun Health Society, he oversees the entire health agency, including the finance department and all other staff. He started the position on April 29.