Ex-London Health Sciences Centre CEO travelled to Florida, Michigan: statement of defence

The LHSC's statement of defence is dated Jan. 21, 2021. Supplied photo

Former London Health Sciences Centre CEO Paul Woods travelled to Michigan and Florida, once coming back with a “noticeable tan,” according to a statement of defence filed Thursday on behalf of LHSC.

The statement comes in response to a $2.5-million lawsuit launched by Woods following his termination.

Read more: LHSC board of directors chair resigns after ex-CEO launches lawsuit

“To the extent that Dr. Woods’ reputation has been harmed, it is a result of his own poor judgment and hypocrisy,” the statement of defence claims.

“It is not the role of the Board of a public hospital to approve personal travel by hospital employees, nor is there any mechanism for it to do so. Furthermore, Dr. Woods did mislead the Board by withholding important information. He told the Chair of the Board about aspects of his travel but he did not tell her that senior hospital executives had repeatedly raised concerns to him about his travel.

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“He did not ask her for guidance about whether he should take a week-long holiday to Florida in October. And he did not inform her that he intended to travel to Michigan from Dec. 19 to 25, 2020.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Read more: London, Ont., NICU nurse who travelled to D.C. has been fired ‘with cause’

On Jan. 8, LHSC released a statement indicating that Woods had travelled to the United States five times during the pandemic to visit family.

Initially, the board of directors said it supported his continued leadership but following public backlash — including a petition that garnered over 7,000 signatures in less than three days — Woods was ousted as president and CEO of LHSC by Jan. 11.

Woods filed the lawsuit on Jan. 13, seeking damages over a “bad faith termination,” loss of reputation, and other costs. Board chair Amy Walby tendered her resignation from the volunteer position that day and it was made public on Jan. 14, though the board stressed that the resignation “is not an admission of wrongdoing.”

In his statement of claim, Woods alleged that while the board did not formally approve of his travel, Walby “took it upon herself to speak for the Board about Dr. Woods’ planned travel” and that “at no time did she provide guidance to Dr. Woods, who reported to her and the Board, that any other approval process was needed.”

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Woods alleged that the board had advanced notice of his travel outside of Canada, that he raised the matter with Walby and asked for guidance, and that she told him he had her support and the matter was personal. The statement of claim says “the Chair said she would advise the Board.”

Woods also claimed that, after his travel was made public, the board created the impression that he was not “forthright and candid with the Board, which is not the case.”

“Dr. Woods proactively raised his potential travel to see his immediate family with the Chair in June, August and October 2020 and at no time did he in any way mislead the Board or attempt to conceal his activities.”

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LHSC, however, says Woods only told Walby “about aspects of his travel” and alleged that Woods withheld important information.

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On Jan. 11, LHSC issued a statement saying that the board “had no advance notice of and did not approve his travel outside Canada. There is no process for the Board of a public hospital to approve a chief executive officer’s personal travel.”

LHSC says it was only after that statement was released that the board learned of the communications between Woods and Walby.

“The omission of this additional context was a good faith error made by LHSC in the context of a rapidly evolving situation. LHSC promptly clarified by releasing a further media statement on January 14,” in which the board also announced Walby’s resignation.

The statement of defence also alleges that senior hospital executives had raised concerns about Woods’ travel as early as March 23.

According to LHSC, executive VPs had trouble reaching Woods on the weekend of March 21 and 22 and on the Monday afterwards they learned he had been in Michigan.

The statement says chief operating officer Neil Johnson and chief people officer Susan Nickle expressed concern about Woods’ travel “to his personal health, to his personal reputation, and to the organization.”

LHSC alleges Woods “grew angry” and said his travel did not concern them. LHSC says Woods told Walby on March 23 that “some on my team are apparently upset.”

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The statement also referenced an internal email Woods sent to LHSC staff in November, reported on in the media, in which he urged that “as health-care workers we must set ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to living and modeling public health guidelines both inside and outside of our workplace.”

The statement of defence alleges that staff viewed it as “an unhelpful and heavy-handed attack on front-line health care workers who had provided extraordinary service and made significant personal sacrifices.”

“As a result,” the statement of defence claims, “there was a pronounced negative reaction among hospital staff, physicians, and stakeholders” when his travel history was made public.

LHSC also alleges that “the reality is that Dr. Woods’ situation is no different from those of others who engaged in leisure travel during the pandemic. While his travel to Michigan could be explained in terms of his personal circumstances, his travel to Florida was a holiday.”

The statement of defence adds that, in response to human rights code claims, that Woods was not terminated “because his family circumstances required him to work from home” but because “he had lost the confidence of the staff and physicians and the community it serves in light of his own hypocrisy.”

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LHSC is asking that the legal action be dismissed with costs.

The allegations have not been tested in court.

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