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Illinois Primary Health Care Association CEO resigns under racial cloud

Wednesday, Jul 18, 2018

* Before we begin, this is a brief description of Aunt Martha’s

Aunt Martha’s is a private, not-for-profit agency providing coordinated health care and social services for family members of all ages in underserved communities across Illinois. The agency serves more than 60,000 children and adults annually. It is state-licensed to provide child welfare, substance abuse treatment and childcare services

* And here’s one for the Illinois Primary Health Care Association

Established in 1982, the Illinois Primary Health Care Association (IPHCA) is a nonprofit trade association of community health centers (CHCs) that proudly serves as Illinois’ sole primary care association. IPHCA represents 48 Organizational members—CHCs—that operate nearly 350 sites in the states of Illinois, Iowa and Missouri—serving 1.3 million patients annually.

* OK, now that you know who the players are and their importance to the state, check out this excerpt of a July 14th memo to members of the Illinois Primary Health Care Association sent by Aunt Martha’s CEO Raul Garza

I am writing today to bring to your attention the behavior of and remarks directed toward me by Bruce Johnson, IPHCA’s President & CEO, at a meeting that took place at Aunt Martha’s on June 20, 2018. During our meeting, in front of six other members of Aunt Martha’s executive team (seven of us total), Mr. Johnson made multiple references to his ability influence our organization’s business and reputation. He went so far as to state that he has the ability to affect our business dealings and relationships with other organizations, including the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, managed care organizations, congressional leaders, and others with whom Aunt Martha’s is developing partnerships.

Mr. Johnson’s inappropriate remarks did not end with his insufficiently-veiled threats toward Aunt Martha’s. Instead, his behavior took a more disturbing turn. As we closed the meeting, Mr. Johnson asked me if Trump lets me back into the country when I travel to Mexico. When I told him I had been there three months ago and did not have a problem getting back home, he continued, asking, “Did you bring any family back with you?” I responded by telling him that I had not brought any family from Mexico when I returned to the United States. He chuckled to himself. My executive staff and I were at once stunned, angered, and hurt by these vile, bigoted remarks and behavior. [Emphasis added]

Um, OK.

Aunt Martha’s retained an attorney and he sent his report to the IPHCA’s board on June 29th. Click here to read it. Apparently, Johnson was tipped off by an executive committee member and quickly tried to apologize via voicemail, alleging saying he “really didn’t mean to be racist.” Ain’t that always the way?

Aunt Martha’s attorney claimed that IPHCA had gone against “the most basic principles of conducting an investigation as required under federal law.” More here. IPHCA also apparently claimed that they couldn’t move forward because Garza wouldn’t provide witness affidavits.

* Soon after Garza sent that e-mail to IPHCA members, the IPHCA’s chairman Gordon Eggers sent a defiant memo to those same members. Excerpt

It has come to the attention of the Executive Committee that this past Saturday evening (July 14, 2018) you received email correspondence from Aunt Martha’s Health & Wellness,Raul Garza and/or their attorney (collectively, “Aunt Martha’s”) complaining of purportedly offensive racial and ethnic comments allegedly made by Bruce Johnson, IPHCA’s President and CEO, on June 20, 2018. The Executive Committee regards any and all such complaints most seriously, as discrimination of any type is repugnant to IPHCA and contrary to its mission.

The Executive Committee was deliberately excluded from Aunt Martha’s email so has had no opportunity to respond until now. From first learning of Aunt Martha’s concerns on or about June 27, 2018, less than three weeks ago, the Executive Committee, among other action, met with Mr. Garza at his demand on less than two days’ notice; engaged IPHCA’s attorneys in the review and investigation process; caused interviews of material witnesses; determined insurance coverage issues; reviewed and determined applicable HR policies and procedures; had direct communications with Aunt Martha’s prior attorneys and current attorneys; and otherwise acted as quickly and responsibly as possible in the serious circumstances presented.

Aunt Martha’s in fact waited more than a week to even notify the Executive Committee as to any concerns it now expresses. While Aunt Martha’s latest email to membership apparently encourages an impassioned “rush to judgment”, due process and fundamental rights of all parties require otherwise.

* Aunt Martha’s Garza then upped the ante by sending a letter to the General Assembly’s Latino Caucus on Monday, July 16th. An excerpt

The Association’s insistence that its investigation has stalled because it does not have affidavits [from witnesses] has no basis in reality. Our attorney, Mr. Ricardo Meza, a former executive inspector general for the state of Illinois, is not aware of any circumstance in which the Association would be prevented from investigating a complaint, regardless of its form or content. Making a request for affidavits even more absurd is that the fact that the Executive Committee has in its possession a transcript of a voicemail in which Mr. Johnson’s stated that he “really didn’t mean to be racist.” It seems the only thing preventing the Association from moving forward is a desire to first make public the same finger pointing and victim shaming already displayed in private.

* It was abundantly clear that all heck was about to break loose, and IPHCA announced later that evening that Johnson had stepped down. Excerpt from Chairman Eggers’ memo to membership

While Bruce’s comments do not – in any way – reflect the opinions of our Committee or IPHCA staff, we know that he was acting as a representative of IPHCA at the time. More than that, we are committed to taking additional steps to ensure this never happens again.

The Executive Committee has approved the creation of a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which will oversee the immediate hiring of a law firm with deep experience in personnel matters. They will be asked to conduct an independent investigation into IPHCA’s current work environment and personnel practices, while also helping us to implement additional employee training. Finally, we will ask them to help us to create a formal process that will ensure any future concerns raised by members or staff receive the prompt attention they deserve.

* In response, Garza sent a defiant memo to his own employees yesterday. Excerpt

On Monday morning (July 16), IPHCA sent its first message to its members. Their defiant attitude, finger-pointing and victim-shaming - which we had described to all of the members almost 36 hours earlier - were all on full display. In IPHCA’s message, the other member organizations could now see for themselves the same anger and spite we’d experienced.

The first part of our plan had been to contact the IPHCA membership. The next step, which we followed through on yesterday, was to contact elected officials and leaders at all levels. Our message was the same. The President & CEO of IPHCA walked into a meeting with our executive team and made, stunningly offensive, racist remarks. We reported the matter to IPHCA’s Executive Committee, which has a responsibility to investigate and reach and unbiased conclusion. Instead, we were subjected to bullying, victim-shaming, and stall tactics. Once again, the response was nothing less than overwhelming. To judge by the outpouring of support, sympathy, and shared-indignation, it seems almost as if the only people in Illinois who don’t understand the ramifications of Mr. Johnson’s behavior are the same people whose roles require them to hold him accountable.

Then, last night, the Executive Committee sent an email to all members announcing Mr. Johnson’s resignation, effective immediately. The tone of their message was completely changed. Rather than saying their investigating was delayed because the victim was being uncooperative, they had concluded their investigation, having spoken to Mr. Johnson and other IPHCA staff. Rather than dismissing the seriousness of our complaint, they announced the formation of a Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

This may seem, on the surface, a victory; but it is not. The hateful tone we’ve heard repeatedly over the last several weeks was washed over in one message. The hateful tone we’ve heard is part of an underlying current of bigotry that flows directly from the top of the Illinois Primary Health Care Association. Mr. Johnson’s resignation, and the formation of a new committee, are like a Band-Aid on a festering wound. The people who, for three weeks sat across from me - from Aunt Martha’s - fuming with anger because we dared to ask them to do the right thing, those people are still there.


I attempted to reach Johnson, but was unsuccessful. If he would like to comment, I’ll post it whenever I get it.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Keyser Soze - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 2:11 pm:

    Diversity and Inclusion Committee? Two over-used words that try to mask boorish or bad behavior. Is it really necessary to create work groups and conduct classes in what should be intuitively obvious to anyone living in this century?

  2. - hisgirlfriday - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 2:29 pm:

    It’s kind of wild to think about how many random white people have seen their professional lives fall apart trying to emulate the casual racism they see someone they voted for in Trump get away with it every day.

    Like if less than 100,000 votes fell differently across Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania fell differently… hatred of Mexican immigrants wouldn’t be a frontburner issue for the average Republican right now and this dude would still have a job.

    I also think Papa John wouldn’t have said all the crazy racist stuff he said without Trump hanging over America.

  3. - Ga. Dawg - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 2:33 pm:

    So, hisgirl, Trump gets credit for a bigot losing his job?

  4. - Pundent - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 2:45 pm:

    I wouldn’t necessarily give “Trump” credit for anyone losing their job. But there’s no denying that he played a large part in creating the environment where this kind of thing is happening. There is certainly a sense of embolden behavior amongst some (obviously not all) Trump supporters. And what you or I might see as a justified dismissal many of them see as an injustice carried out in the name of political correctness.

  5. - Waffle Fries - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 2:46 pm:

    Professionals need to act professionally. I don’t know Mr. Johnson and can’t speak to his character but you simply don’t act this way professionally.

    From what I’ve read, not discounting the anger that has come from Mr. Garza, it seems as if IPHCA is taking meaningful steps to not allow the conduct exhibited by the former CEO to happen again.

    I just went to IPHCA’s website and see they’ve named Jordan Powell as acting CEO. I know Jordan personally and professionally. Anyone that has spent even five minutes with Jordan knows he is 100% a class act all the time. I think in the immediate this was a smart move.

    I hope this moves towards a resolution all parties can be satisfied with.

  6. - Almost the weekend - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 2:52 pm:

    The problem with Trump is the things we know we aren’t supposed to say, are now spoken by some people. If you don’t think his election along with rise in hate crimes aren’t correlated. You need to cut your cable subscription to Fox News before you see Sean Hannity supporting Putin… Wait it’s too late.

  7. - unspun - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 2:54 pm:

    While we don’t have all of the facts, the comments made by the then CEO are despicable. It does seem that the Board is taking positive steps to improve the culture, not the least of which is promoting Jordan Powell. Jordan is a leader that will take the reigns and make that organization stronger than ever.

  8. - G'Kar - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 2:57 pm:

    Leaving the racism aside, I’m curious about the first part of the original memo. Is Aunt Martha’s a member of the IHPCA? Was Johnson trying to force them to join by shaking them down? “Bad things might happen to your reputation if you are not a member?” If so, I find this just as disturbing as the racism.

  9. - I Miss Bentohs - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 3:02 pm:

    Sorry this happened to this person.

    Three things I know that disgust me:
    1) Xenophobia is a sin.
    2) Trump is xenophobic and spreading it.
    3) The “religious” right still supports Trump.

  10. - Open access - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 3:32 pm:

    According to IPHCA’s publically available tax filings, Bruce’s annual income was $430k. His friend circle likely includes others who speak openly in this manner. Glad it finally caught up to him. Shame on those at IPHCA that tolerated this guy.

  11. - 100 miles west - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 4:12 pm:

    G’Kar has the question that really needs to answered

  12. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 4:19 pm:

    Yes, they are a member organization.

  13. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 5:31 pm:

    – Mr. Johnson made multiple references to his ability influence our organization’s business and reputation. He went so far as to state that he has the ability to affect our business dealings and relationships with other organizations, including the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, managed care organizations, congressional leaders, and others with whom Aunt Martha’s is developing partnerships.–

    Sounds like a shakedown to me. The gratuitous racism from Johnson was intended to show what a b-a Mafioso he thinks he is.

    Maybe this is the first time something like this has happened with Johnson and IPHCA.

    But if any other providers have had similar experiences with that crew, please speak up now.

  14. - LTSW - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 6:53 pm:

    This another example of the old guard falling. The IPHCA has had an enormous influence on the state’s social services over the last 25 years. I’ve had to deal with many IPHCA contracts of dubious value in my career.

  15. - Just Me - Wednesday, Jul 18, 18 @ 7:44 pm:

    Kind of ironic that an organization that exists to serve minority communities would have an executive leader that is so clueless.

  16. - Oitnb - Thursday, Jul 19, 18 @ 5:02 am:

    430k a year really? It sounds like the organizations that deal with iphca need to look at what they pay these numbnuts. #draintheswamp

  17. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Thursday, Jul 19, 18 @ 10:19 am:

    ==Mr. Johnson made multiple references to his ability influence our organization’s business and reputation. He went so far as to state that he has the ability to affect our business dealings and relationships with other organizations, including the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, managed care organizations, congressional leaders, and others with whom Aunt Martha’s is developing partnerships.==

    That’s what trade orgianizations do. That’s what chambers of commerce do too. There is nothing wrong with this. This is why people belong to these organizations.

    However, Johnson’s racist remarks were reprehensible.

  18. - Ex Member - Thursday, Jul 19, 18 @ 5:59 pm:

    It is deplorable that he would make such statements. One thing you have to understand about the Board of Directors. They are carefully groomed and chosen by Mr. Johnson and show a lot of devotion to him. It’s a very tightknit good old boy network. Unfortunately, he and the Board of Directors have been exposed For what they really are.

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