July 26, 2014; Lafayette Journal & Courier
This story leaves us with many more questions than answers so stay tuned.
The executive of North Central Health Services, a nonprofit medical charity in Lafayette, Indiana, is leaving. Apparently, that’s eliciting sighs of relief because John Walling is seen by some to have been stockpiling hundreds of millions of dollars while distributing only a small fraction of the growing assets in grants.
Walling makes $376,377 per year at his job as president and CEO of North Central Health Services, overseeing the charity and also operating River Bend Hospital, a psychiatric inpatient facility. The charity had $358 million in assets at the end of fiscal year 2011—up from $248 million in 2007. (Think about the growth and the dates, consider what the local needs may have been, and that may provide a window into why some are annoyed). The NCHS annual operating budget has ranged from $5 million to $13 million over the past ten years, so it is sitting on enough to fund the organization for more than four decades.
The organization was capitalized by the sale of Lafayette Home Hospital in 2003. Bob Truitt, a member of the advisory board of the IU medical school in Lafayette, said the issue is crying foul—that the nonprofit hospital was built by donations from the community and local businesses, but those community dollars have disappeared into NCHS’ mounting bank accounts to be meted out only very sparingly to the community at large.
“There’s a frustration that the money hasn’t been returned to the community,” Truitt said. “I know they have a board of directors, but John [Walling] was the guy. John basically went in and ran it like his own money.”
John McBride, chairman of NCHS’s grant board, asserts that nothing is amiss in the least. “Both the corporate board and the grants board try to be good stewards of those funds,” McBride said. “Those are funds that are being held for the best interest of the community. We have set up guidelines so we aren’t making grants on a willy-nilly basis that would be inconsistent or contrary to the best interest of the area.”
McBride says that the group is working on accepting more applications and making more grants, but the NCHS decision process is reportedly pretty opaque. NCHS doesn’t identify unsuccessful grant proposals, but Walling, according to this report, has said in the past that grant requests often fail because they don’t align with NCHS’ vision—or they just aren’t good enough.
“Sometimes it’s really hard to get good grants or good applications,” said William Cook, chairman of NCHS’s governing board. “We’re just interested in doing that in a matter [sic] that’s prudent.”
Source: North Central Health Service’s annual Form 990 tax form.
As said earlier, this leaves us with a few more questions than answers, but we might suggest that “good stewardship” of this money during the recession may have required a bit more spending. NPQ can only hope that in subsequent years, NCHS has found more opportunities to spend its grant money, as local caregivers continue to gear up for the changes brought about by the ACA.—Ruth McCambridge