COVID-19 and The US-Canada Border

March 18, 2020
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Negotiations ongoing to keep Henry Ford Health System’s Canadian employees crossing border

DETROIT – Following the Canadian government’s announcement Wednesday banning non-essential travel across the U.S-Canadian border, Henry Ford is reiterating the importance that healthcare workers are considered essential and permitted to cross the border.

Henry Ford employs 950 Canadian citizens. More than 500 are nurses.

“We have every reason to believe that our employees from Canada will continue to cross the border without problems. We are eager to learn the exact guidelines that will allow us to care for patients, respond to this pandemic and also protect the safety of all,” said Patrick Irwin, Henry Ford’s vice-president of human resources.

Henry Ford is working with representatives at every level of the U.S. and Canadian government, including U.S. Reps Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Canadian Parliament and Vice-President Mike Pence’s office, among other parties, to finalize details that will ensure health care workers are safely crossing.

“The Michigan governor and the Michigan congressional delegation understand the critical nature of the situation and the unique relationship we have with Canada, which for many of us who live and work in Michigan is closer than the suburbs.”

He said he feels confident the border will remain open to healthcare workers and is awaiting guidelines with details.

Those details might include whether healthcare workers will travel in their own vehicles, in a designated vehicle such as a shuttle, how Covid-19 screenings will be conducted before crossing and other issues, Irwin said.

Bob Riney, President Healthcare Operations & COO, explained in a video address to employees, Canadian employees in particular, Henry Ford’s commitment and efforts, which are now long underway, to address their crossing the border, an issue addressed after 9/11 and other significant events.

“We are really working very actively and very confidently at this point that we are not going to have any challenges in making sure that you can safely come and take care of our patients and equally safely return home to your families,” Riney said.

“Our goal is to calm people as best we can and assure everyone that our valuable Canadian citizens who are responsible for providing care and supporting much-needed services to respond to this pandemic will continue to fill their critical roles while also satisfying any concerns around keeping everyone safe,” Irwin said.

In an update sent to employees on March 17, Irwin assured employees that their needs are priority.

“We want to take a moment to recognize how stressful these times are for all of our dedicated employees as we work together through the many complex issues surrounding COVID-19. We also want to recognize our Canadian team members who are experiencing additional stress with having to cross the border during these challenging times.”

Irwin closed with encouraging words: “Thank you for your professionalism, your integrity and your amazing care in this most difficult of situations – you and your fellow team members – irrespective of nationality or country (and we have a lot of diversity within Henry Ford Health System!) are what make our care and our culture so special.”


MEDIA CONTACT / Kim North Shine / 313-549-4995 / [email protected] and [email protected]