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Springfield Hospital board members deny lawsuit claims by former CEO

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/21/2020 10:42:43 PM
Modified: 1/21/2020 10:42:41 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — A Tennessee-based consulting firm and members of the board of Springfield Medical Care Systems and Springfield Hospital are seeking to have a federal lawsuit filed by the hospital’s former CEO dismissed.

Timothy Ford, who resigned as CEO of both the hospital and the Springfield-based health system in December 2018, sought severance pay by filing the lawsuit in federal court in Burlington in August. Ford alleged that two members of the hospital board forced him to resign by threatening to fire him.

In their response filed in federal court on Jan. 9, seven leaders of SMCS — including board chairman George Lamb, treasurer Richard Dexter III, secretary Stephen Lyon; board members Eric Bibens, Robert Flint and John Bond; and SMCS CEO Joshua Dufresne — said that they cannot be held personally liable for actions they took in “good faith” and in “the best interests” of the organization.

In addition, the defendants said they cannot be held liable for contractual obligations between SMCS and Ford.

They said they are immune from liability under the Volunteer Protection Act and that because Ford was “an employee at will,” they were under no obligation to give him warning about their decision to seek his resignation, terminate him or allow him to consult with his attorney.

They asked the court to dismiss the suit and award them costs, including legal fees.

Tennessee-based Quorum Health Resources and four of its employees, whom Ford also named in his suit, filed a Jan. 10 memorandum in support of the SMCS defendants’ motion to dismiss, saying that Ford failed to state a claim against them. Quorum employs Springfield Hospital interim CEO Mike Halstead, who is one of those named in Ford’s suit.

Quorum’s filing said that Ford’s allegations that Quorum and its employees “somehow directed or participated in” Ford’s ouster are not based in fact.

Ford’s Burlington-based attorney Stephen Ellis said in a Jan. 13 email that his client, who began serving as Springfield Hospital CEO in November 2013, stands behind his allegations.

“The defendants must either accept responsibility for the unlawful actions alleged in Mr. Ford’s complaint, or they will be held accountable in due course by a judge or jury,” Ellis said.

SMCS spokeswoman Anna Smith declined to comment on the litigation.

Ellis said in August that Ford did not sue SMCS or Springfield Hospital because they are going through bankruptcy. The two entities, which were saddled by $20 million in debt, filed for bankruptcy protection in June and have continued to care for patients.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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