Long time Mazzoni Center CEO ousted in leadership shakeup

The board of the Mazzoni Center has ousted its longtime chief executive in the wake of accusations that she fostered an atmosphere of racial disparity and was slow to react to misconduct claims against a former medical director.

Three days after announcing that it was standing by CEO Nurit Shein, the center’s board announced Monday that it had asked her to resign the day before, and she accepted. A search is on for a new chief executive at the center, which provides health care services for Philadelphia’s LGBT community.

The board also accepted the resignation of its physician-president, Jimmy Ruiz.

As recently as Friday, the center’s board was still standing behind Shein and issued a statement to “reaffirm its confidence” in both her and Ruiz.

The board’s brief statement on Monday announced the changes without comment. It said that Tony Rodriquez, a medical doctor, would serve as interim board president. Neither Rodriquez nor a spokesman for the Mazzoni Center could be reached late Monday for comment.

The city’s Office of LGBT Affairs and the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs issued a joint statement in response to the shake-up. It said they “stand with the community, staff, and patients of the Mazzoni Center as we call for increased transparency and accountability throughout the investigation of serious allegations of misconduct.”

The center's former medical director, Robert Winn, resigned earlier this month.

Center City-based Mazzoni is an important hub in the LGBT community, serving 35,000 patients and social services clients a year. In 2015, it brought in about $11.5 million in revenue, according to records filed with the Internal Revenue Service. More than half came from contributions and government grants, with the remainder coming from program services and other income.

Mazzoni plans to move next month to a new space in South Philadelphia as part of an expansion. Shein was paid about $183,000 in salary and compensation as its CEO, according to the records.

The discord at Mazzoni stretches back on two fronts: Anger by some employees and the Brown and Black Workers Collective over what they saw as racial insensitivities on the part of Shein, and her perceived lack of response to separate allegations of impropriety against Winn.

The Brown and Black Workers Collective, an activist group that counts some Mazzoni employees as members, has argued that the center has shown bias against minority employees. Specifically, it said, among other grievances, black employees had been singled out for disciplinary action and that they faced retaliation for complaints.

The collective also said that Shein, who has run the center since 1995, knew for years about allegations of impropriety against Winn but did not act.

Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, co-founder of the collective, welcomed the news. Muhammad said he was an HIV prevention counselor at Mazzoni before leaving in June 2016.

"News of Nurit Shein's resignation makes us hopeful and allows us to look onward'" he said in an email. "The Black and Brown Workers Collective stand with Mazzoni staff and want their demands met."

Winn, the former medical director, resigned on April 13. Mazzoni officials said last week that Shein did launch an investigation conducted by the law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. But Mazzoni did not say exactly what was being investigated.

“This is a complex situation and we have an obligation to respect the rights and confidentiality of all parties,” Mazzoni said in the statement. “We also have an obligation to help ensure that the conclusions we reach are based on facts.”

City councilwoman Helen Gym sent a letter to Mazzoni officials last week asking for information regarding allegations of “patterns of abuse” by Winn.

The disruptions at the center have caused some worry in the LGBT community as well as outside of it.

Indeed, Gym issued a statement on Monday welcoming the leadership changes at Mazzoni and calling the center “a critically important institution.”

Jane Shull, director of Philadelphia FIGHT, an unrelated AIDS services and health nonprofit, said that she is “very concerned for the patients and clients at the Mazzoni Center at this point.”

“We believe that Mazzoni has been an important and needed resource in the LGBTQ community,” Shull said. “We know there are many at Mazzoni who provide competent, compassionate care and advocacy for their patients and we hope they will be able to go on doing that.”

Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, also responded.

“To the Board, you stepped up and did the action that was required, it's a first step,” he wrote on Facebook. “You showed leadership. This is not the time that anyone should be crowing, it's a time to rebuild, heal and bring unity to this community.”