The chair of London Health Sciences Centre’s board of directors has announced her resignation, just one day after Dr. Paul Woods filed a lawsuit against the hospital network over his firing as president and CEO following the public outcry over his travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
Amy Walby says she tendered her resignation from the volunteer position on Wednesday.
“Over the past week, the Board has been engaged in difficult discussions on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there are legal implications associated with these conversations making complete transparency very difficult. I understand this has been frustrating for both the staff and our community,” she said in a statement.
“While I stand firm in my belief and understanding that I did nothing wrong, my resignation is a reflection of my deep commitment to doing what is best for the greater good. I regret that these events have caused distraction for hospital staff and the community at such a critical time.”
A statement from the board itself stresses that Walby’s departure “is not an admission of wrongdoing.”
It also adds that Phyllis Retty is stepping in as acting board chair, effective immediately.
Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor, LHSC executive vice president and chief clinical officer, has been appointed interim president and CEO, effective immediately.
“Dr. Schleifer Taylor’s many years of executive leadership, including the five years she has spent as a senior executive at LHSC will ensure that LHSC can continue to focus on its immediate priorities,” the board says.
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On Wednesday, Woods filed a $2.5-million lawsuit against LHSC.
According to a statement of claim, Woods is seeking $1.4 million for “the bad faith termination.” The amount claimed represents his base salary, performance-based compensation and benefits he expected for the period from Jan. 10, 2021, to Jan. 14, 2023.
He is also seeking a declaration that the defendants defamed him, an additional $1 million in damages for loss of reputation, $100,000 for breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code, and coverage of all legal expenses.
The allegations have not been proven in court.
Woods also claims he informed Walby of his proposed travel plans and that he had her approval.
In the board’s initial statement last Friday confirming that Woods had travelled to the U.S. five times since March — most recently from Dec. 19 to 25 — the board said it was “aware Dr. Woods continued to travel for personal reasons given the separation from his immediate family.”
In a statement on Monday announcing Woods’ termination, the board clarified that while it was “aware of Dr. Woods’s personal circumstances,” it was not given advanced notice of, nor did it approve, Woods’ travel outside of Canada.
The statement of claim also includes copies of emails in which Walby responded to Woods’ plans to go to the U.S. by saying:
“I think it is reasonable to afford some ability to see loved ones at the cost of working remotely for 2 weeks, as long as it is not too frequent. One visit every two months seems to hit the mark as a (painful) compromise. I support what you need to do on this. I don’t think the Board needs to approve but we can give them a heads up.”
In Thursday’s statement, the board says it “recognizes that there remain a number of outstanding questions regarding the termination of Dr. Paul Woods as President and CEO.”
The board says details of his exit package are not available as they are now part of a lawsuit, but the board did provide additional information regarding Woods.
LHSC denies the allegations made by Woods in his statement of claim, and the board says it “will respond to the details of those allegations in due course when the Statement of Defense is made a matter of public record.”
Woods, the board says, was terminated “without cause.”
His trips to the U.S. were not a secret and were known by many people at the hospital and in the community. When objections to his travel were raised by those at LHSC, Woods “advised that he had the support of the Board Chair and as such there was no room for further discussion or action.”
However, the board says it never formally approved any travel as there is no process for it to do so.
The board says it “would like to clarify” that Woods did disclose “aspects of his travel” but that it was not until the Jan. 8, 2021, meeting of the elected board directors that they were “apprised of the full extent of the CEO’s travel over the course of the pandemic.”
The board also says that before Woods travelled to the U.S. in August, he raised the matter “of his need to periodically travel (and subsequently work from home during a quarantine period)” with Walby and asked her for guidance, “including whether he should bring the matter to the Board.”
Walby indicated that Woods “had her support and said that it was a personal matter that did not require Board approval.”
“This has been an incredibly difficult time for the hospital and community and the Board recognizes and thanks LHSC’s staff and physicians for their ongoing commitment to meeting the needs of the community during this challenging time,” the board says.