Community Health Programs CEO Bryan Ayars resigns

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GREAT BARRINGTON >> Bryan Ayars, CEO of Community Health Programs for the past six years, has resigned, board members announced on Tuesday.

Ayars, who succeeded Marsha Savage as CHP's CEO in September 2009, officially tendered his resignation last week, said board President Jodi Rathbun-Briggs.

He will remain with the organization through the end of November, and will assist in the transition process to a new management team, she said.

CHP's 140 employees were informed of Ayars' resignation on Tuesday afternoon.

The move comes amid concerns expressed about the CHP leadership, including a discrimination complaint filed by a former employee against Ayars and the organization.

Rathbun-Briggs said Ayars' departure was by "mutual agreement."

"Although we wish him well we are looking forward for a fresh start for the organization," Rathbun-Briggs said. "We look forward to making sure that the patient care has not been compromised. We must be clear that it has not been previously compromised and that our organization is safe and sound making plans for the future."

Ayars could not be reached for comment.

CHP was founded as Children's Health Program in 1975 as a means to provide health care for children in rural areas who had no access to care. It was renamed Community Health Programs in 2000 when CHP obtained federal designation for its health center, which allowed the nonprofit to treat adults and elders.

Board members and CHP's legal counsel C. Jeffrey Cook declined to comment on the reasons for Ayars' departure, citing an "understanding" reached between the parties that includes what public statements are made.

"It's just an accumulation of a lot of things." Cook said. "I think we've gotten to a place where in fairness to everybody we just decided that it was time for a new start. That's how it's been approached between Bryan and the board."

But a pediatrician who recently resigned from CHP described the nonprofit's working environment as "toxic," adding that senior staff members have been left out of the decision-making process.

"The relations with the administration and the leadership [are] very, very strained," said Dr. John Horan, who worked at CHP for three years. "We don't have a voice."

Horan is also interim medical director at the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Emory University and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

"The reason I spoke out is because I have another job," Horan said in a telephone interview from Atlanta. "A lot of other people are afraid to go on the record."

"The medical directors, or medical officers, are having a difficult time with the CEO," Horan said. "They felt they were disrespected."

His comments came before news of Ayars' departure became public.

CHP also is the target of a sexual harassment complaint filed two weeks ago by the former human resources director.

Keith Healey, spokesman for the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, acknowledged that a complaint had been filed against CHP by a former employee, but he said state law prohibits the commission from discussing the allegations.

"This is news to us in terms of the things that are being suggested in this complaint," Cook said. "It's going to be strongly defended; I can tell you that."

The employee who filed the complaint did not raise issues of sexual harassment while a review of CHP was taking place, Cook said.

An attorney for the employee could not be reached for comment.

Board members said the employee's departure had no connection to the allegations.

But Horan suggested that the human resources director's departure was somehow related.

"One day she was there, the next day she was gone," Horan said. "We got an email saying that she had left to pursue work as a yoga instructor.

"The medical providers all knew why she had been let go and it wasn't to be a yoga instructor," he continued.

In addition to Horan's allegations, The Berkshire Edge, an online publication, last week reported that a group of CHP physicians recently sent a letter to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration seeking additional oversight amid the concerns about the current leadership. The agency provides funding and oversight for CHP and all of the country's federally designated health centers,

The board declined to comment on the allegations contained in the letter because the members had not seen it. Horan also declined to discuss the letter because he was not one of the authors.

Cook said it would be a "mistake" to characterize the work environment at CHP as toxic.

"I think there are a lot of passionate people that are trying hard to serve the mission of CHP," Cook said, when asked how he would describe the nonprofit's working environment. "That sometimes involves some disagreements, but the place really functions very well. Patient care is not compromised in any way."

Rathbun-Briggs, the CHP president, said the board of directors began investigating leadership and management issues at CHP 18 months ago.

"We hired an unbiased third party to lead us through what we called a review process that took a long time, longer than what anyone would have guessed," she said. "Once you pull up the rock everything starts scurrying underneath."

After the review process was completed, Rathbun-Briggs said it became "obvious" that additional steps needed to be taken.

"Prior to The Edge article coming out, the board was actively looking at changing the leadership of the organization," she said.

Horan said the problems he described at CHP were not all Ayars' fault.

"I don't want this to be all about Bryan Ayars," he said. "It's really not about that. ... We have to work together and that is just not happening.

"The day-to-day patient care hasn't suffered a lot," he said. "But as an organization we could be doing lots more."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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