Revolving Door

June 3, 2014; Memphis Business Journal

This might be seen as a cautionary tale for organizations attempting to replace a founder executive. The organization in question is 19 years old and enjoys an excellent reputation. But Christ Community Health Services in Memphis has over the past year had three executives, two after the May 2013 resignation of longtime CEO Burt Waller. Waller was first succeeded by a co-founder, Rob Donlon, who was later replaced by Ed Roberson who came to the organization from a financial firm.

This kind of revolving door can happen in the immediate aftermath of the resignation of a longtime, well-regarded leader, and that instability at the top can make staff intensely unhappy, particularly in an intensely values-based environment.

Over the past two weeks, thirty medical providers of the fifty on staff have notified the board of directors that they would be leaving the organization. Twenty doctors signed one resignation letter sent to the board of this religiously-based organization last week. It read, in part:

“Over the last several months, we have prayerfully and patiently tried to negotiate with the Christ Community board of directors and the interim executive leadership over issues involving the integrity of the organization and ultimately the care of our patients…We’ve pursued the biblical process to reconcile with the board and humbly urge them to reconsider a number of ill-advised and poorly executed decisions that have put the mission and future of Christ Community in jeopardy.”

“It is with great sadness that we now believe we could no longer be a part of the new direction of the organization,” the letter continued. “For these reasons, the resigned providers, staff and founders cast a vote of no confidence in the CCHC board of directors and interim leadership.”

CCHC is a key medical provider to Memphis’ low-income community and we will keep an eye on the situation. In full disclosure, this author knows and admires Burt Waller, the founder who is the former CEO.—Ruth McCambridge