'Very disappointing': Strong reaction to Paul Woods's trips to U.S. during pandemic
LHSC boss had admonished staff for flouting rules, said they needed to set high standard
Friday's news that London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) CEO Paul Woods made five trips to visit family in the United States since March drew a swift and sharp reaction from a local MPP and health-care workers.
In response to questions from CBC, LHSC issued a statement Friday confirming the travel, including one trip that happened between Dec. 19 to 25.
The federal government has advised Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside the country, one of many restrictions aimed at curbing a current surge in COVID-19 cases that Premier Doug Ford yesterday said is reaching "scary" proportions.
The statement said LHSC board members knew about the trips, that Woods stayed in one location after driving across the border and that he followed rules that require a 14-day quarantine upon returning to Canada. The statement said he continues to have the support of the LHSC board.
Still, news of the trips didn't sit well with some Londoners, including many who pointed out that in November Woods admonished frontline hospital staff for not following the rules.
James Gibbons is a registered nurse and a member of Local 100, which represents 3,200 members.
He said Woods's actions reflect a dangerous double standard, particularly when so many people in Ontario sacrificed family visits over the holidays to do their part in curbing the spread of a virus that has killed more than 15,000 Canadians.
"Our nurses have been restricted from getting together with their loved ones over the holidays, but I guess those rules don't apply to Mr. Woods," said Gibbons.
London-West MPP Peggy Sattler said Woods's actions could leave the public wondering why they should follow COVID-19 restrictions when politicians and health care leaders appear unwilling to.
"This creates all kinds of challenges in terms of getting the public to buy in to these guidelines," said Sattler. "We have people who are in positions of leadership who are telling the public how important it is not to travel outside of the province and adhere to the guidelines and yet they are not applying those same rules to themselves."
Peter Bergmanis of the Ontario Health Coalition said Woods's decision to make multiple cross-border trips while front-line health care workers stay home to deal with the pandemic shows "poor judgment."
"We're very disappointed that he would have chosen in December, when everyone knows this was a major lock down, and he chose to flout the rules as if they don't apply to him ... and his workers can't even get time away from the job," he said.
Bergmanis points out that many politicians who indulged in holiday travel over Christmas have paid a price. For example Rod Philips resigned as Ontario finance minister after it was revealed he went on a Caribbean vacation over Christmas.
"There should be consequences for Woods for having done this," said Bergmanis. "He's the leader of a team and this didn't show any kind of leadership at all."
In a statement issued Friday, LHSC said the board of directors knew about the trips and that Woods continues to have their support.
The statement also includes an apology from Woods, who says he won't travel until restrictions are lifted.
LHSC and board members have said they are not available for interviews at this time.