CEO of Niagara Health dropped from role after ‘regrettable’ Dominican holiday

An Ontario hospital executive who vacationed in the Caribbean over the holidays is no longer CEO of Niagara Health, according to a statement from the hospital network’s board of directors, but is still CEO of St. Joseph’s Health System as of 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Dr. Tom Stewart had been the CEO of two hospital networks in southern Ontario — with facilities that are battling outbreaks — and sat on a COVID-19 panel that advises Premier Doug Ford.

He resigned from that panel and two others hours after the news broke of a trip to the Dominican Republic despite government advisories to stay home, prompting outrage from health-care unions and the public.

Niagara Health and St. Joe’s, both hospital networks in southern Ontario, are separate but have had a contractual agreement to share various services, including a joint CEO.

Niagara’s board of directors said it is no longer purchasing CEO services from St. Joe’s effective immediately, which means Stewart is no longer CEO.

Current president Lynn Guerriero will become interim CEO.

St. Joe’s hasn’t commented on Stewart’s future.

The move comes after Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the board of directors at St. Joe’s and Niagara Health would need to make a “tough decision” about whether Stewart should resign.

“They’re going to have to make a tough decision. I made the tough decision with my finance minister,” Ford said Wednesday when asked about if Stewart should be fired or resign.

“The government of Ontario doesn’t get involved in day-to-day operations of hospitals … we’ll leave that up to the board to make that decision.”

His comments followed a report from CBC News which revealed Stewart was on an approved vacation since Dec. 18 and visited the Dominican Republic.

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips resigned after returning from a controversial Caribbean vacation while the province remained under strict lockdown measures that discourage non-essential travel.

Emails to staff say he was in private Dominican home

In emails seen by CBC News, Stewart apologized to staff at Niagara Health and St. Joe’s.

“As many of you have heard, I have made a regrettable decision to travel outside the country for which I am truly sorry. My family and I went to our private home in the Dominican Republic and returned yesterday,” read an email attributed to Stewart.

“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.”

Niagara Health and St. Joe’s did not independently verify the emails and have not yet responded to questions about who approved Stewart’s vacation and why.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said Wednesday saying he’s “extremely disappointed” to hear about people travelling during the holidays, “especially elected officials and senior leaders in our community.” 

“These individuals do not have a separate set of rules from everyone else and are being held accountable for their foolish actions,” Eisenberger said.

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