LHSC board chair resigns amid fallout from CEO’s travel scandal

Amy Walby, the chair of the board of directors at the London Health Sciences Centre, has resigned her position, the latest casualty of the scandal surrounding former CEO Paul Woods’ travel to the United States during the pandemic. 

“I am deeply saddened by the events that have transpired over the past few days,” Walby said in a message to hospital staff obtained by CBC News. 

Walby has been at the centre of controversy since Friday, when it was revealed that Woods travelled five times to the United States to see his family, most recently during Christmas when the hospital was dealing with outbreaks and when the province was asking people to limit non-essential travel. 

On Friday, Walby said the board of directors was aware of Woods’ travel and supported him, but on Monday it fired Woods and said it was not aware of the trips.

Woods swiftly filed a $2.5 million defamation and wrongful dismissal suit against Walby and the hospital. It alleges Walby knew about the trips, approved them, and fired Woods to save face. 

Dr. Paul Woods, former CEO of London Health Sciences Centre. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Walby resigned because the scandal has been “distracting from LHSC’s singular mission of meeting the health-care needs of our community in the midst of the ongoing pandemic,” the hospital 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,” Walby said.

Phyllis Retty, who has served as the vice-chair of the board, now takes on Walby’s position. 

The hospital also announced that Jackie Schleifer Taylor as the interim president and CEO of the hospital. 

She is LHSC’s current executive vice president, chief quality and patient safety officer, president of Children’s Hospital and vice-president of Women’s Care. 

Response from LHSC to lawsuit 

Hospital executives and the board of directors have refused interview requests from CBC News since Jan. 7 about Woods’ travel. 

Today, in a written statement, the hospital confirmed that Woods was terminated without cause, that it denies the allegations in the statements of claim, and that it will file a statement of defence. 

“Dr. Woods’ travels to the U.S. were known by many people at the hospital and in the community, as Dr. Woods did not attempt to hide his whereabouts,” the hospital statement says.

“When objections to Dr. Woods’ travel were raised by those at LHSC, he advised that he had the support of the Board Chair and as such there was no room for further discussion or action … The Board has never formally approved any travel by Dr. Woods as there is no process for the Board of a public hospital, including LHSC, to approve a chief executive officer’s personal travel.”

Woods did disclose “aspects of his travel” to the board of directors and board chair. 

“Dr. Woods travelled to the U.S. to visit his immediate family in March 2020. He informed the Board of the border crossing due to urgent family business and would need to quarantine,” the statement said. 

“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.”

Until seven days ago, the LHSC had eleven executives on its roster, making between $200,000 and $500,000 annually.

In addition to Woods’ firing, vice-president Julie Trpkvoski left LHSC Jan. 5. No reason was given for her departure. 

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