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Hospital: 'Hypocritical' CEO lost moral authority, deserved ousting for U.S. travel

TORONTO — The CEO of a large Ontario hospital is a hypocrite who lost his moral authority to lead because of his travel to the United States during the pandemic, according to the facility's legal filings.

TORONTO — The CEO of a large Ontario hospital is a hypocrite who lost his moral authority to lead because of his travel to the United States during the pandemic, according to the facility's legal filings.

In an untested statement of defence, the London Health Science Centre provides a detailed account of why it terminated the employment of Dr. Paul Woods earlier this month.

Essentially, the hospital argues Woods was the author of his own misfortune. Word of his travels last year to Michigan and Florida — despite public health warnings against non-essential travel — prompted widespread outrage, the hospital says.

"It quickly became clear that Dr. Woods had lost the moral authority to lead the hospital and his employment was terminated," the hospital asserts. "To the extent that Dr. Woods’ reputation has been harmed, it is a result of his own poor judgment and hypocrisy."

Woods has filed an unproven claim in Superior Court, arguing the hospital wrongfully ended his five-year contract two years early, and defamed him in the process. He is seeking $1.2 million in damages.

According to the defence, Woods had previously warned doctors and staff of the consequences of failing to follow public health guidelines. 

In November, after a COVID-19 outbreak that infected more than a dozen employees, Woods lambasted staff, the hospital says.

"In many of these cases, internal contact tracing has shown the spread to be caused by direct staff-to-staff transmission," Woods wrote, according to the defence. "To be clear: this is unacceptable."

The memo further stated the importance of "holding ourselves and each other accountable," and threatened discipline for violating safety protocols.

"His statement was poorly received by staff, who 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 during the pandemic," the defence asserts.

While Woods did not hide his travels, including returning from one trip with a "noticeable tan," the hospital says senior executives had repeatedly raised concerns with him as well as fears of causing reputational damage.

Woods, however, maintains he had talked to the chairwoman of the board about travelling to the U.S. to visit his fiancee and immediate family. He says she raised no objections.

However, the hospital argues he failed to mention the warnings he'd previously received. It also says he never asked Amy Walby, who resigned as board chairwoman after his termination, about going to Florida for a vacation in October or that he planned to go to Michigan just before Christmas. 

"Rather than accepting responsibility for his own choices, Dr. Woods has attempted to shift the blame to (the centre's) volunteer board of directors," the defence statement says. 

It was only on Jan. 8, 2021, that the entire board learned of his travels, which had sparked widespread outrage, the defence says:

"Board members heard concerns that Dr. Woods’ travel was a dereliction of duty during a critical pandemic response, that his actions had exposed the hospital workers to risk of infection, and that it was hypocritical for him to have travelled and to continue to travel."

In any event, the hospital says, it was not the board's role to approve his personal travel.

Woods' lawyer said the statement of defence has provided no details about employees' raising concerns with him about his travel. 

"In Dr. Woods’ view, there is no basis for this allegation, and we have been provided with no evidence to substantiate it, despite our requests," his lawyer Michael Wright said. "This is simply part of an ongoing effort by the LHSC board to deny its role and to shift all responsibility to Dr. Woods, which is continuing to cause him damage."

Last spring, the federal government closed the border with the U.S. to non-essential travel and warned against leaving the country. Public health authorities have repeatedly stressed the need to avoid unnecessary travel outside Canada.

The hospital says he was entitled to 12 months pay only, and is asking the courts to throw out his action and award it legal costs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 29, 2021.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press