CEO who went on Dominican holiday out of role atop Hamilton hospital

·3 min read
After two years as CEO of St. Joseph's Health System, the board of directors say Dr. Tom Stewart is no longer in the role after he went on vacation in the Dominican Republic during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Niagara Health)

The head of a Hamilton hospital who vacationed in the Dominican Republic over the holidays is out of the position, after two days of public outrage.

Dr. Thomas Stewart and St. Joseph's Health System "parted ways" on Thursday, according to a statement from its board of directors.

A spokesperson for St. Joe's could not say if he resigned or was fired.

Stewart was removed as CEO of Niagara Health on Wednesday and, on Tuesday, resigned from a number of health advisory boards including a COVID-19 panel that advises Premier Doug Ford.

All this followed a report on Tuesday about his international travel.

An internal memo from two St. Joe's officials, obtained by CBC News, said they understood that staff were frustrated.

"We have heard your frustration and disappointment about Dr. Stewart's international travel during a critical point in the pandemic. We share those emotions," said St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton president Melissa Farrell and interim chief of staff Dr. David Russell in the email.

The board said an interim replacement will be named shortly.

Termination clause

Stewart's contract includes a clause that entitles him to 24 months of pay, more than $1 million, if he is terminated without cause.

Stewart received a salary of $604,083.24 and $25,631.76 in taxable benefits in 2019, according to public records.

If Stewart is fired without cause and his compensation starts, he must look for permanent work that can pay what he made as CEO, and only if he finds some can St. Joe's stop payment, according to his contract, dated Aug. 1, 2018.

For some time, he would also continue to receive some some employment-related benefits.

Stewart won't get the 24 months in pay if he is terminated with cause according to the contract. That includes:

  • A material breach of the provisions of the contract.

  • Gross neglect or duty.

  • Disregard or disobedience of any reasonable resolution of the board.

  • Any wilful act of dishonesty or neglect in performing duties

  • Conviction of an indictable criminal offence.

The contract and all of its conditions can be terminated if Stewart resigns on terms which satisfy him and the board.

Hospitals battled outbreaks

The hospital networks both said his approved vacation started on Dec. 18. In an apology email to staff, a statement attributed to Stewart said his trip included a stay with family at his private home in the Dominican.

He returned to Canada on Tuesday, according to that statement.

"I know that my decision to travel was incorrect and that you are disappointed in me. My greatest regret, after you have sacrificed so much for the last 10 months, is that I have let you down," read the message to staff on Wednesday.

The premier, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger and others reacted to his vacation with disappointment.

The day before Stewart started his vacation, St. Joe's and Niagara Health called on the province to take "decisive action" around lockdowns because "COVID infections and hospitalizations are rising rapidly and show no signs of abating."

While he was away, facilities in both hospital networks battled deadly outbreaks and the government urged people to stay home as the second wave of the virus raged on.

Niagara Health and St. Joe's have not answered questions about who approved Stewart's vacation and why.