Nonprofit health care clinic CEO ‘shocked and dismayed’ by suspension

Jon Stewart, CEO, Heartland Community Health Center

Heartland Community Health Center CEO Jon Stewart said in a statement Thursday that he was “shocked and dismayed” when he was notified that he had been suspended without pay.

The organization made the announcement late Wednesday, saying Stewart was suspended pending a forensic review of the clinic’s business records.

Heartland is a “safety-net” clinic that serves Douglas County and surrounding areas with primary medical care and other health services and assistance programs.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

The entrance to Heartland Community Health Center, 346 Maine St., Suite 150, is shown Friday, Jan. 26, 2018.

“I look forward to the opportunity to meet with the auditors the board has engaged to review my expenditures which they told me relate to travel expenses to a national conference on community healthcare,” Stewart’s statement, sent through his attorney Thursday, read. “I do not believe any of my actions or expenditures warrant the severe action the board has taken. Certainly, everything I have done has been disclosed.”

James Pavisian, president of Heartland’s board of directors, told the Journal-World via email Wednesday that national accounting firm BKD would be conducting the audit and that additional information would be provided at its conclusion. Asked for further comment Thursday, Pavisian declined to answer specific questions about the nature of the audit or what necessitated it. He also declined to address Stewart’s statement about his travel expenses.

“We are working diligently with BKD to get them everything they need to finish their work quickly, but at this time there is no date I can give you,” he said via email.

Stewart said the merging of Heartland and local clinic Health Care Access, which was finalized Feb. 1, “has created a tremendous strain on the culture of the organization,” but he did not elaborate on that in his statement.

“I have worked tirelessly for Heartland for the past decade and am very proud of the work we have done to provide care to folks in our community who would otherwise go without,” the statement continued. “… I trust that the 70 employees at Heartland will not let the distraction interfere with the great care the center provides and their role in those programs.”

Stewart is being represented by Lawrence attorney Dan Watkins.

Melanie Coen, spokeswoman for Heartland, said Thursday that the decision to suspend Stewart happened “at the board level” and she could not speak to the cause or provide more specific information about the nature of the audit.

Stewart took over as CEO in October 2007, when Heartland was still called the Leo Center, following the retirement of Joe Reitz.

The 990 tax form that Heartland filed with the IRS in 2016, the latest on record at nonprofit records site, listed Stewart’s 2015 salary as $119,931, not including $15,556 in other compensation from Heartland or other organizations.

The board appointed current Chief Operating Officer Alexandra Nicholson as interim CEO, according to Heartland’s Wednesday news release.

Stewart is the most recent nonprofit leader in Lawrence to come under a cloud.

In October 2017, the executive director of the Lawrence Community Shelter, Trey Meyer, was fired by the shelter’s board. However, in that case the board gave no reason other than a decision “to go in a different direction.” The board did note that the decision was not based on any financial impropriety.

In January 2016, the president of the Lawrence Art Guild, Amanda Monaghan, was removed by the nonprofit’s members following concerns about irregularities within the organization. Monaghan was eventually charged with felony theft for stealing from the group in April 2014, and in January 2018, she pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor theft charge instead and was ordered to pay $1,125 in restitution.

In August 2015, the executive director of Just Food, Jeremy Farmer, who was also the mayor of Lawrence, resigned his position at the nonprofit food pantry, and it was later discovered that he had embezzled thousands of dollars from Just Food. He was sentenced in August 2017 to 10 months in federal prison and was ordered to pay more than $81,000 in restitution. Watkins represented Just Food during that time.