Two years after a new chief executive officer took charge of the Catholic Health Association, a special task force is examining the organization's workplace, management and structure, MODERN HEALTHCARE has learned.
The Rev. Michael Place, the CHA's president and CEO, said the task force was formed to deal with the tensions created by retooling the organization. In announcing the task force to the CHA's staff, Place, who has never been a CEO before, acknowledged some of his own management missteps.
"While we cannot ignore my mistakes or those made in the past, I do pledge to you that I will make whatever changes I must make personally and structurally to make our work environment compatible with our mission, vision and values," Place wrote in a Dec. 21, 1999, memo.
The internal task force, which had its first meeting Dec. 9, 1999, has 19 members, representing the CHA's core leadership, key executives and all levels of employees.
Part of its mission is to address "concerns that have surfaced from many levels in the organization," according to the memo from Place.
The task force's initial meeting followed the abrupt resignation of Sister Jean deBlois, the CHA's vice president of mission services, last November (Dec. 6, 1999, p. 4). The CHA gave no reason for deBlois' departure, and she has declined to comment.
Since Place took over, other key executives have departed the CHA. William Cox, a former CHA executive vice president, resigned in September 1998. Cox, who had worked at the CHA for nearly 20 years, was passed over for the top job, which eventually went to Place. Cox is now president and CEO of Sacramento, Calif.-based Alliance of Catholic Health Care.
Another executive to depart was Peter Leibold, the CHA's former general counsel, who left in June 1999 to become executive vice president and CEO of Washington-based American Health Lawyers Association.
Place replaced John Curley Jr., who retired after 18 years with CHA.
"We are engineering an internal transformation," Place said. "That, in any organization, means there are resulting tensions."
The CHA has more than 2,000 members, including religious sponsors, systems, facilities, health plans and related organizations. The association has 78 employees in offices in Washington and St. Louis.
Some of the changes at the CHA have included a revamp of its strategic planning process and direction, a shift to a system-based membership structure and a move to become more nimble so the organization can more quickly respond to issues facing its members.
That has helped score some lobbying victories and give higher visibility to the CHA, such as its efforts to repeal payment reductions imposed by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and turn lawmakers' attention back to the issue of access to care.
But a side effect of the retooling has been a change in how the CHA operates, eliminating some autonomy and encouraging more crossover duties for staff, Place said.
Place said he didn't seek board approval for the task force. He said he told the full board about the task force on Feb. 9, the start of the board's annual retreat and after inquiries about the task force by MODERN HEALTHCARE.
However, the CHA's seven-member executive committee, which includes some board members, knew about the task force a month earlier, Place said.
Michael Connelly, chairman of the CHA's 25-member board, said the task force is exclusively a management issue.
"We are very comfortable with the direction the organization is taking," said Connelly, president and CEO of Cincinnati-based Catholic Healthcare Partners. He added that the board has "100% support" for Place.
Connelly emphasized that support in a Feb. 11 memo he wrote about the annual retreat and sent to CHA member CEOs and religious sponsors.
In his memo, Connelly talked about how the CHA is "rebuilding a management team" and "ensuring that the competencies needed for the staff to succeed are present."
The memo acknowledged the internal angst this is causing.
"The board is aware of these tensions and transitions and of Mike's own development as a first-time CEO in a turnaround situation," Connelly wrote. "The board believes these tensions are being properly addressed and wants you to know that we appreciate the process and results of CHA's management leadership over the past two years. Michael has the board's 100% support."