LHSC CEO takes leave of absence amid controversy
December 6, 2023
LONDON, Ont. – Days after London Health Sciences Centre was slammed for planning to spend $470,000 on executive travel, sparking a Health Ministry investigation, chief executive Jackie Schleifer Taylor (pictured) is taking a leave of absence, its board announced. “Due to a health matter, Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor is taking an immediate leave,” board chairperson Matthew Wilson said in a letter released in late November.
Dr. Kevin Chan, corporate medical executive, will take over as acting president and chief executive. “I want to assure you that LHSC has well-established plans in place for all leadership and operations during this interim period,” Wilson said.
Schleifer Taylor took the hospital’s helm in January 2021, becoming LHSC’s acting leader in the wake of a pandemic travel scandal that resulted in the abrupt termination of former president Paul Woods.
According to a report in the London Free Press, it has been a bumpy tenure under Schleifer Taylor, with LHSC now under Health Ministry investigation after revelations the hospital was to spend $470,000 to send senior staff and executives to Portugal, the Middle East and Australia.
LHSC’s top ranks also have undergone significant, and costly, change under Schleifer Taylor with the departure of several high-profile executives and an aggressive restructuring that installed presidents for each of LHSC’s three campuses.
The hospital also moved to dissolve formal ties with St. Joseph’s Health Care London during Schleifer Taylor’s term, ending a collaboration agreement and moving to dissolve several joint ventures, including its medical procurement agency and Lawson Health Research Institute.
“I would feel more optimistic if there was a real shift in accountability,” said Peter Bergmanis, co-chairperson of the London Health Coalition, a grassroots advocacy group. “There is good reason to investigate what is taking place at LHSC.”
Bergmanis also called for more financial accountability, saying salaries increased “enormously” under Schleifer Taylor and more senior executives were appointed. “Costs have been piling up,” he told the Free Press.
Schleifer Taylor received $753,745 in salary and benefits in 2022, an increase of nearly $220,000 from 2021.
Five departed London hospital executives took home more than $1.5 million in salary and benefits in 2021 despite exiting their jobs within the first half of the year.
Those costs also included a multimillion-dollar wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Woods against LHSC that was settled for an undisclosed amount this year.
“There is temporary change at the top, but it is doubtful if there has been structural change,” Bergmanis said. “The culture of silence is still there. LHSC prides itself on being an acute-care trauma centre, but it has been years since an administration there has not had a scandal.”
Wilson in his statement said Schleifer Taylor’s leave “is not associated with recent inquiries pertaining to international travel,” and declined further comment.
The Health Ministry also declined comment. “As the Ministry of Health’s and Ontario Health’s investigation remains ongoing, I cannot provide further comment at this time,” spokesperson Hannah Jensen said by email.
Lorrie Vandersluis, vice-president of labour at LHSC and president of COPE (Canadian Office and Professional Employees union) Local 468 that represents hospital office staff, said she is concerned by the turnover and turmoil in the hospital’s senior ranks.
“Hospital workers strive for stability and we have not had stability since COVID. We remain understaffed, underfunded and there are a lot of problems with that,” she said.
The hospital is finding it difficult to recruit and retain staff, Vandersluis said.
“That will continue to be major issues, it will be hard to recruit and retain when this happens.”
Schleifer Taylor, a physiotherapist by education, was president of Children’s Hospital before being named LHSC’s permanent president and chief executive in November 2021.
She helmed one of Canada’s largest acute-care teaching hospitals that has three separate hospitals and employs about 15,500 people.
The Free Press reported on Nov. 13 that LHSC and its foundations recently sent 16 senior staff and executives to an international hospital conference in Portugal and six executives to the United Arab Emirates.
Eleven senior staff were supposed to begin a third trip to Australia in November to study best practices in healthcare, but it was cancelled two days before the scheduled departure. LHSC confirmed one executive had already arrived in Australia and was forced to come home when the trip was called off.
The trips would have cost a total of $470,000 – a figure that riled critics given the hospital’s staffing crunch and the fact it was forced to cancel surgeries at Children’s Hospital a year ago because its bed capacity was at 115 per cent.
The hospital said the Australian trip was scrapped due to “unavoidable circumstances” involving a “transformational announcement” slated for the coming weeks.
“That is a lot of money in one quarter when we are in need of money throughout the hospital,” Vandersluis said. “It is not the best bang for our buck. I have concerns with that.”