PGN Exclusive: Mazzoni Center leadership talks transition

PGN Exclusive: Mazzoni Center leadership talks transition

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Mazzoni Center experienced numerous shakeups in the past few months, including allegations of sexual misconduct from an employee, a walkout of more than 60 full-time staffers and the resignation of its CEO.

New Interim CEO Stephen Glassman, Interim Board President Dr. Tony Rodriguez and Senior Communications Manager Elisabeth Flynn spoke exclusively to PGN this week about their vision for moving the LGBT health and wellness center forward.

A new interim CEO

Mazzoni announced Monday that Glassman will take on the post previously held by Nurit Shein, who was under scrutiny due to her handling of accusations of alleged sexual misconduct by former medical director Dr. Robert Winn.

Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC is conducting a third-party investigation regarding the allegations against Winn, who resigned in April. Days later, Mazzoni employees staged a walkout demanding the resignations of Shein and board president Dr. Jimmy Ruiz. Additionally, Black & Brown Workers Collective member Abdul-Aliy Muhammad posted on social media about declining their HIV medication until Shein resigned. Both Shein and Ruiz submitted their letters of resignation days later.

Glassman said he is aware that his new role, as well as Mazzoni in general, will be under scrutiny.

“This is for everyone’s benefit because that transparency helps all of us learn from our past experiences, move forward and build a much better future for the community that’s being served and for the efficacy of the organization itself,” Glassman said. “I am someone who tries to learn from past experiences. There are always positive things that you can gain from any situation no matter how challenging it is and to use those lessons learned in making sure that the same mistakes aren’t made again.”

Glassman said there will be a learning curve in his work and he plans to “conduct a lot of listening sessions and community conversations” to develop that understanding.

Mazzoni employees have called for transparency from leadership within the organization; Glassman said he has sought to lead with transparency in his previous work and does not anticipate it being an issue in his new post.

However, he does foresee another challenge.

“What’s difficult is building trust,” Glassman said. “I’m a new entity at Mazzoni Center. People may know me from my prior work but many of the staff haven’t met me yet. I think it’s important for me to come to this agency with an understanding that I am functioning as one among many and that I have a role to fulfill. [I want] to value and respect everyone’s contributions and their worth and importance at the agency in order to build trust and credibility during the six months that I anticipate being there.”

Glassman is the former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut and former chairperson of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Among other efforts, Glassman said he has committed to racial justice through these positions and hopes to continue that work as Mazzoni CEO.

“We aren’t going to be able to resolve all of [the racial tension] in my six-month tenure at Mazzoni Center but I do plan to approach all of these issues with humility, with an eye toward listening and learning from all of the people in the organization who have experiences to share with me so that I can better understand what is happening and what their perceptions are,” he said.

Glassman added that individuals who have not lived the lives of black and brown people should “do their very best” to understand “what it must be like to walk in their shoes.”

“I certainly recognize my personal privilege as a white male. I am coming into a situation where we are dealing with allegations of unfair treatment and inequities on the basis of race, ethnicity and other disenfranchised classes. You have to approach this with an understanding that you move through the world differently than people whose skin color is different than yours and your perception of life is different. Recognizing that, I think it will help me to appreciate the life experiences that are being shared with me by staff and others who have been involved with the Mazzoni Center.”

Glassman said he sees the organizational issues that have arisen at Mazzoni Center as opportunities for growth.

“[I am looking forward to] the ability to serve in an organization that has great challenges and to have the opportunity to build stronger relationships with the community, within the organization [and] among the staff so it is cohesive and it is humming along without having to be distracted by these kinds of issues. Then people can feel more productive and the organization can function at the highest possible level.”

Increased transparency

Rodriguez noted that Mazzoni has taken steps to increase transparency in the organization. He said the board has had a larger role in day-to-day operations prior to Glassman’s appointment and said he has met almost all members of the staff.

“I think there is a lot that has been going on that the board and a lot of the community were not aware of,” Rodriguez said. “That is the nature of almost any large organization. I think we erred on the side way too much of not hearing a lot of things [from these people]. That has pretty much been the role that the board all have had: listening to the input of the people who are providing the services to make sure we’re hearing their perspectives.”

Rodriguez said the board has received positive feedback for its work in the last few months and noted that board members now have a temporary office space with an open-door policy. He said he has reached out to individuals and groups within Mazzoni to facilitate conversations.

Flynn added that board members have been on site at least twice a week, noting these visits were more sporadic prior to Mazzoni’s leadership shakeup.

“There really is an intentional effort to make sure the staff knows the board and vice versa — that their faces are known and their personalities,” Flynn said. “It’s really about being there and being available. I think the comfort level has really increased.”

The search for a permanent CEO

Glassman’s tenure is expected to last between six and nine months, and he will not be eligible to apply for the permanent CEO position.

“We wanted to ensure someone would be independent,” Flynn said. “Part of the reason for making the interim distinct from the permanent CEO was to let that person give very frank feedback about what they’re seeing, experiencing and hearing in a way that would be beneficial to the organization and the eventual permanent leader. That would allow them to be independent without their bias for a future [role as permanent CEO].”

Glassman added that the board has been “very thoughtful” in wanting to discover what he learns in this position before finalizing the job description.

“I think we’re going to learn a lot in the next month or two and I’m going to frankly and honestly share all of that information with the board so they can make the best possible decisions,” Glassman said.

Mazzoni’s board, community members and independent executive-placement firm Advanced Corporate Solutions, LLC, will conduct a nationwide search for the next CEO.

“We’re not exactly sure what our new leader needs to look like so, therefore, we’re not exactly sure what the selection process for that new leader should be. However, we’re committed to having broad representation from not just staff and the board but also from the community,” Rodriguez said, noting the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs will also be involved in the community-engagement component of the search.

Rodriguez said the board hopes to have a formal selection process in place within the next few weeks and to finalize the job description by the end of the summer.

Glassman noted that marginalized communities will play a role in the selection process. He said Advanced Corporate Solutions will reach out to recruit people of color and representatives of other marginalized communities to ensure Mazzoni has a diverse pool of applicants for the permanent CEO position. Additionally, community representation will include variations of genders, ethnicity, religions and abilities.

“We’re looking at all possible ways to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, respected and valued so that they can make a contribution to this effort,” Glassman said.

Moving forward

Mazzoni opened the doors to its new headquarters at 1348 Bainbridge St. May 30 and is scheduling an open house for the community in the fall. The Bainbridge Street headquarters features more exam rooms, larger waiting areas, more private areas to ensure patient confidentiality and a dedicated space for community events.

In addition to the physical changes, Rodriguez noted the internal differences.

“I think now we’re much more open to hearing from the community and from the staff: What is needed next?” Rodriguez said. 

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