Earlier this week, the Columbia Union Conference announced that Celeste Ryan Blyden, its executive secretary, will chair the board of directors for Kettering Health. She replaces Dave Weigley, president of the union, who has overseen the Ohio-based hospital network for 17 years. The change was initiated at the January 23 Kettering Health board meeting, the first since CEO Fred Manchur suddenly departed the organization in November of last year. Spectrum’s December 6 story—based on first-person executive accounts of Manchur’s longtime financial largess—raised questions about board governance.
The Columbia Union statement says that Weigley is leaving the board to help care for his wife, who has cancer:
Weigley, whose wife, Becky, is battling cancer for a second time, says that stepping away from his longtime role with Kettering Health and several other boards and committees will allow him to focus more on caring for and supporting his wife through a very challenging experience and treatment regimen. “Helping my wife through this illness takes precedence . . .” Weigley says.
The Columbia Union confirmed that Weigley will continue to chair the boards of Adventist HealthCare and Washington Adventist University and serve on the boards of Andrews University and Loma Linda University.
Celeste Ryan Blyden assumes this role with two decades of experience leading communication for the Columbia Union. According to her bio, she joined the union in 2002 as communication director and Visitor magazine editor. She was named assistant to the president in 2004 and in 2014 was appointed vice president for strategic communication and public relations, "making history as the first female vice president of the Columbia Union." Ryan Blyden founded the Adventist Women Leaders (AWL) network, and she is part of a new North American Division writing committee looking at how the history of colonization through the Doctrine of Discovery impacts Christian mission. Her bio states that “she has helped churches, schools and organizations work through nearly 200 crisis situations” during her career. In a 2019 video, she shares her approach to managing crises.
One year ago, Ryan Blyden became executive secretary of the union, giving her an administrative portfolio that includes communication, assisting the president with governance, strategic planning, and prayer, among other projects. The union website shows that Ryan Blyden chairs the union’s Board of Education and the membership board of WGTS, an Adventist-run radio station with about $8 million in annual revenue.
Broadcasting in the Washington, DC, area, WGTS lists Ryan Blyden as a member of its board of directors. The websites of WGTS and its parent company, Atlantic Gateway Communications, Inc., do not list a membership board. Asked for a description of the members and duties of the membership board of WGTS, the Columbia Union responded that it had no additional information. WGTS has not replied to a request for comment.
In the last 76 days, Kettering Health has lost its CEO and top governance leader in back-to-back board meetings. While continuing to serve on over 40 denominational boards and committees, Dave Weigley leaves the health care network of 14 medical centers in the middle of a CEO search process.
The leadership changes at Kettering draw attention to the complexity of contemporary corporate and clinical oversight. Beyond hiring and firing the CEO, board responsibility extends to the prudent use of assets, accountability to the mission, and protecting the organization from legal exposure. The increasing scale of health care institutions raises questions about the capacity of current denominational governance structures. In its latest annual report, the Columbia Union reported just over $140 million in tithe. Kettering Health has around $2 billion in revenue. These large health care assets come with significant public responsibility. “In most states, the attorney general has the power to enforce the public’s interest by making sure that charitable organizations fulfill their charitable purposes under a theory that the assets of nonprofit corporations are charitable assets that can be protected by the state or the community,” says the American Hospital Association’s Trustee Services Guide to Good Governance. “Attorneys general typically exercise that power by making sure that charitable assets are preserved and are not diverted to a non-charitable purpose.”
Despite responding to comment and clarification requests, a repeated question to both Kettering Health and the Columbia Union asking if they are aware of federal or state of Ohio investigations into the health care network continues to go unanswered.
Alexander Carpenter is the executive editor of Spectrum.
Image credit: Columbia Union Visitor
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