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Vice-President of Finance resigns from Sun Country Health Region

Faced with increasing pressure and mounting evidence of former financial indiscretions and misrepresentations, the vice-president of finance and corporate services for the Sun Country Health Region, Hal Schmidt, has resigned.

Faced with increasing pressure and mounting evidence of former financial indiscretions and misrepresentations, the vice-president of finance and corporate services for the Sun Country Health Region, Hal Schmidt, has resigned. Cal Tant, chief executive officer for the region, accepted Schmidt's resignation effective immediately. Recent information related to Schmidt's employment history made it untenable for him to continue in the job with SCHR and no severance will be paid, the region said. "We recognized that action was required on this issue," said Sharon Bauche, chairwoman of the government appointed board of directors. Bauche told The Mercury on Monday that a complete review of the Sun Country's hiring practices will begin this week, conducted by the Hay Group of Regina, a well regarded consultancy team. That examination will take about three weeks. "They will submit a report to the board and we will make it public," said Bauche who added that an executive search group will also be contracted to find the next vice-president of finance and corporate services, a role that isn't easily filled. In the meantime, the rest of the financial services offices and officials will continue their work as usual. Tant said that during Schmidt's two years of service with Sun Country, no financial irregularities surfaced , but "we're making sure all items are covered." Tant, who conducted the background search and hired Schmidt while recommending him to the board, said he did not feel that he was in a tenuous position with the board at this point in the exercise. He said that in hindsight, no normal vetting of a candidate for an administrative position would have uncovered items such as those that eventually surfaced regarding Schmidt's past deeds. In earlier statements, Tant noted that when Schmidt joined four other potential candidates for the Sun Country job, he had admitted that he had misrepresented himself as a chartered accountant to obtain a job at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. That misrepresentation led to his dismissal from the job. Sun Country sent for legal advice when it was later revealed in a story first appearing in the Moosomin World-Spectator that Schmidt had arranged for a $75,000 loan from St. Mary's Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., while being employed as the CEO there. He never repaid the loan. The hospital later ceased operations and the Fraser Health Authority sued Schmidt for the outstanding amount plus interest and fees. The order called for him to pay $82,401.86 to the Fraser Health Authority as well as another $1,524.43 in interest and $2,215.33 in additional costs. The issue of the unpaid loan only surfaced within the past month, said Tant. It was also noted earlier that Schmidt had not only misrepresented himself as a chartered accountant in Halifax, but had continued to use the CA designation beside his name on subsequent applications for positions in B.C. The vice-president of finance and corporate services in Sun Country does not necessarily have to be a CA, said Tant, since the region has one on staff. The job entails handling such issues as information systems, strategic planning, food and materials management and other health care management issues. The CA on staff is the financial director in charge of the daily bookkeeping items. "We will get down to details with the review and we should come up with ideas of how we can do things better," said Tant. Tant said Schmidt's resignation was tendered and accepted on August 12. The cost of the two to three week review is not known as yet and legal advice that was being sought after the news of Schmidt's loan surfaced, has been cancelled. Bauche said the board "has not started any action," with regards to Tant's position and he will remain in the role as CEO. "The review, I expect, will give us good direction. Mr. Schmidt's resignation was a good resolution for us and we're confident that our financial situation is good. There is no early indication of any irregularities, but we have contacted the provincial auditor to ask him if there is anything else we could or should be doing and we'll take direction from him." Asked if the Schmidt hiring process and subsequent blowout created a lot of questions around the Sun Country business sessions, Bauche said "we've had lots of discussion about this, no doubt." Tant said the priorities for Sun Country remained constant and that those were patient safety and quality care. Schmidt's residential accommodations even came into question when it was revealed that he had remained in one of the Sun Country's contracted "transition" apartments in Weyburn for two years. Tant explained that because of tight housing markets in Weyburn and Estevan, Sun Country had contracted for two or three apartments in Weyburn to help accommodate health professionals such as registered nurses, laboratory personnel and doctors who were arriving in the region with nowhere to live. The apartments are made available to them on short-term arrangements while they get settled into the job and are able to find more permanent housing. "Hal was in one of our apartments because we didn't need it at the time. He paid the full rental costs and additional costs associated with the rental unit," said Tant. Bauche said she and the board were aware that Schmidt was using the transition apartment for an extended period and they were assured that the additional unit was not required by others during his two-year stay there.The vice-president of finance and corporate services in Sun Country is a contracted position that pays approximately $135,000 per year.

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