The letter, which WellStar provided to the Journal, goes into detail about an alleged relationship between Simone and Bonnie Wilson, WellStar's former executive vice president and general counsel.
Addressed to Simone and signed by WellStar attorney Sharon P. Morgan of the Atlanta firm of Elarbee Thompson, the letter says Simone acknowledged his misconduct and promised to correct it, but then ignored multiple requests to end his "special relationship" because it was creating a morale problem among WellStar's senior leadership team.
The letter states that the two sent coded messages to each other, exchanged gifts and ate together privately. For example, Morgan writes that Simone admitted to going "underground" with his relationship with Wilson by using the "'PIN' function on your Blackberry to avoid creating an email trail of correspondence.
"In fact, WellStar Health System recovered from your computer an email to Ms. Wilson forwarding a series of 'commonly used abbreviations' for those messages, including 'fyeo' (for your eyes only), and 'tou' (thinking of you). You also admitted that you frequently 'pinned' Ms. Wilson 'gnsd,' which was the abbreviation for 'good night sweet dreams.' As another example of your special relationship with her, you informed WellStar that you frequently referred to her as your 'neutron girl,' explaining that the neutron held the atom together," Morgan writes.
Morgan writes that the letter is in response to public statements made by Simone and his attorney, Ben Mathis, regarding the basis of his termination. The statements, Morgan argues, are apparently part of a calculated plan to harm WellStar Health System.
"Your recent conduct, and that of your counsel, requires that WellStar now respond," she writes.
Mathis said the letter, which he received late Friday afternoon, was "a despicable act by WellStar" and "is filled with inaccuracies, false statements and out of context events ... They have now done something that is simply indefensible in using their lawyer to publish a letter with outrageous and wrong allegations."
But Morgan said it was explained to Simone on Sept. 2, the night the Board of Trustees fired him, that "your very close personal and professional relationship with the then-General Counsel was adversely impacting operations at WellStar Health System, creating an unhealthy and dysfunction climate on the Senior Leadership Team, and threatening to damage the reputation and image of WellStar Health System."
Therefore, the board lost confidence in Simone's integrity and ability to efficiently lead the organization, and lost trust in him as well, according to the letter.
"To the Board, leadership was and is about these values, not just about revenues," Morgan writes.
She said a number of WellStar leaders were concerned that Simone had granted Wilson veto power over significant non-legal decisions impacting the organization and that virtually no decision could be made without her approval.
Morgan then goes into examples of their special meetings.
For instance, members of the senior leadership team were attending a business function at Lobster Bar in Buckhead in November 2009 when they spotted Simone and Wilson having dinner together.
The same evening, when a member of the leadership team tried to call Simone to discuss "an urgent medical staff issue," Simone couldn't be reached. When they called Wilson by cell phone at about 10 p.m., Wilson answered, saying she was dinning with Simone.
"It was obvious during that conversation that the dinner was a personal one, not a business function," Morgan writes.
From November 2009 to May 2010, staff and board members frequently observed Simone and Wilson at one-on-one meetings, "many of which were conducted outside normal business hours." In May 2010, a board member met with Simone to warn of the consequences of continuing such behavior.
"You again promised that you would no longer engage in any behavior that could contribute to those perceptions, rumors and problems," Morgan said.
Despite such warnings, the evening of July 9, 2010, Simone and Wilson were spotted alone at a local Mexican restaurant, the letter states.
"This created an awkward situation for the staff member who saw you and shortly thereafter she reported what she had seen to a supervisor," Morgan writes.
In an attempt to address the concerns, Morgan writes that Simone fired Wilson on Aug. 31, 2010.
Morgan said Wilson responded by claiming she had been sexually harassed by Simone and sexually discriminated against by WellStar.
When interviewed about her claim of harassment, Wilson stated that she felt she had no choice but to continue to accept Simone's request for private breakfasts, lunches and dinners because he had power over her, Morgan writes.
"Although she told WellStar that there had been no affair, she felt she was put in a difficult and uncomfortable position. Later she sought to retract her claim of harassment," Morgan writes.
Simone was then fired on Sept. 2.
Mathis, who is also Wilson's attorney, said it is notable that Morgan's letter concedes that there was no romantic relationship between Simone and Wilson.
"This was the allegation that was made the night that Dr. Simone was terminated," Mathis said. "WellStar has now completely abandoned the very reason for his termination. Now, after the fact, they have tried to justify this termination and avoid media scrutiny of the actions of interim CEO James Budzinski, Trustee Chairman Randall Bentley, Trustee Tom Phillips and HR Director David Anderson. We hope that there will be an appropriate independent investigation of their recent actions," Mathis said. "These are four people whose actions need to be closely scrutinized."
Wilson categorically denies that she ever claimed Simone harassed her or acted inappropriately, a statement she expressly communicated to David Anderson prior to the Trustee's decision to terminate Simone, Mathis said.
Moreover, Wilson pointed out the letter comes immediately after her written demand to WellStar this week that they stop their defamatory conduct of her, and particularly that Jim Budzinski cease his defamatory statements, Mathis said.
WellStar Health System's 18-member Board of Trustees unanimously confirmed Simone as its new president and CEO in May of 2007, following the death of his friend Dr. Robert Lipson, WellStar's previous CEO who died tragically in a November 2006 motorcycle crash while riding home from work.
"Again, you were terminated because you allowed your personal relationship with a co worker to interfere significantly with the management and operations of WellStar Heath System, because you risked the good name and reputation of WellStar Heath System by engaging in reckless conduct that created the appearance of impropriety, and because you disregarded the authority of the Board of Trustees and its warnings to you regarding the negative impact of your conduct," Morgan writes.
Mathis said the letter is designed to justify what WellStar cannot justify, which is the dismantling of the most successful executive team in the history of WellStar.
"They have now fired four senior executives, along with an unexplained resignation this week of a fifth executive, and WellStar concedes that they had no cause for any of these terminations," Mathis said.
He is referring to WellStar's termination on March 21 of Dr. Richard Lopes, formerly senior vice president and president of the WellStar Medical Group, which is in charge of the system's 350 physicians, and Ron Strachan, formerly senior vice president and chief information officer. This week, WellStar announced that its assistant vice president of government and community affairs, Susan Thompson, had also departed from the health system.
The letter was timed by WellStar so that neither Simone or Wilson would have the opportunity for a detailed response, Mathis said.
"They would like to again assure their many friends and supporters that there was never any inappropriate behavior of any kind," Mathis said. "WellStar's letter is nothing more than a carefully designed effort to place both individuals in a false light and destroy their personal and professional reputations. WellStar and the individuals discussed above should know that both Dr. Simone and Ms. Wilson will evaluate their legal options in the coming days given the publication this letter and its false and misleading statements. Both individuals are saddened that a respected community organization like WellStar would stoop to conduct of this type. They hope that fair-minded members of the Trustees who have been publicly silent to date will demand that those responsible be held accountable."
Regarding the mentioned dinners, Mathis said he thought it was incredible that two senior executives dining together a few times over the course of a few years was an issue.
"If it were two men having dinner, two business partners having dinner twice in a two or three year period nothing would ever be said about it. I think any professional woman would be offended by an allegation like that," Mathis said.
"It's clear they're trying desperately to divert attention from what's going on there right now," he said. "I believe strongly they will ultimately regret what they have done."
WellStar has five community-based hospitals. One in Austell, two in Marietta, one in Dallas and one in Douglasville. With 11,500 employees, the health system, whose flagship is Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, is one of the largest in the nation, with revenues of $1.5 billion.