A Dying Wish

Peggy Quinn wanted to make death easier on the terminally ill, but she's made life hard on everyone else.

Simpson says Quinn's habit of meddling bothered her, but more than that, she became worried about the financial health of the organization. "I had heard Kert Hubin, the business manager, talk about things being tight. I was very surprised at how the budget was managed; the numbers changed all the time, and Kert told me there was a practice-type budget that wasn't really followed. When I asked Peggy what our annual budget was, she said she didn't know. I said, 'Peggy, you need to know the budget!'" Simpson says.

Hubin, who worked first as a caregiver at Anam Chara and later as the business manager, says there was constant "monkeying" with the budget. "We had a line item in the income section of the budget for grants and donations. No administrator with a head on her shoulders would allow that to be a line item, because it's theoretical money," says Hubin, who quit out of frustration, along with Simpson, last September. "We'd put in the average of the donations we'd received in the prior year. Her logic was that we couldn't do any worse than last year."

Quinn is the first to admit that business is not her forte. "My gift is with people. I knew I was at a juncture, as the demand for Anam Chara was growing, where I needed to have people to support me," she says.

Like Simpson, Quinn hoped that a new, strong board of directors would make Anam Chara more attractive to donors. By the end of July 2000, five new members had been seated: Jan Bezuidenhout, president and CEO of Namaste Comfort Care, a for-profit hospice; Mark Berzins, a local restaurant and bar owner; James Wall, a partner with Freeman Group Public Relations; Lou Raskin, a volunteer senior peer counselor with the Boulder County Mental Health Department; and Kim Yuskis, who works for the Boulder County Aging Services Division. The new group joined Quinn and Simpson on the existing, but previously inactive, board, which included Darcelle Harris, a Denver antique store owner, and Judy Morgan, a physical therapist and Anam Chara employee.

The first thing the new boardmembers did was form a finance committee to come up with a fundraising plan; its members included Berzins, Bezuidenhout, Morgan, Raskin and Quinn. Berzins quickly emerged as a leader. The other boardmembers respected his business judgment; he owns the Spot Bar and Grill near Washington Park, a restaurant of the same name in Golden, and Three Dogs Tavern in northwest Denver. Berzins had decided that he wanted to give something back to the community that patronized his businesses, so he'd started researching nonprofit organizations in need of boardmembers; he found Anam Chara through a board bank operated by Metro Volunteers.

"There were hundreds of organizations in the board bank, but I liked the mission of Anam Chara," he says. "I have elderly grandparents in failing health, and I'm concerned about the quality of nursing care in this country."

At the first meeting of the finance committee, Berzins laid out objectives for raising money and said that in order to attract donors, the homes needed to be repaired and painted. "But the most important thing we needed to do before trying to raise money was to get a realistic budget in place," he says.

Berzins says Quinn budgeted as though both homes were full and counted on fundraising dollars that hadn't been committed. The budget for the approaching 2000/2001 fiscal year was $470,000, and it provided for only the bare essentials; the boardmembers thought more services could be offered if they trimmed some of the management positions in what they saw as a top-heavy organization.

When the finance committee reconvened in September, Berzins suggested budgeting on the assumption that one bed in each house would always be empty. "Peggy's biggest concern was whether she and her employees would still get their salary increases and get medical benefits," Berzins says. "Here we were talking about how to squeeze blood from a stone, and she's saying everyone needs a wage increase. We just didn't have any money for that."

The finance committee members proposed restructuring the management of the homes: Instead of having a high-paid manager running each one, an experienced caregiver in Denver and one in Boulder would take over as team leaders. (They could have saved more money by getting rid of the arts coordinator, who arranges for volunteers from the community to visit the homes and work on art projects with the residents, but they decided that her role was one of the things that made the organization special.) Quinn, however, didn't like the idea of eliminating Sherry Irby, the longtime manager of the Boulder home, so the board agreed to keep her on in another, less costly position.

"Peggy said she needed Sherry to keep managing the home during the transition to the team concept, so we authorized her to continue being paid at the same level for another six to eight weeks," Berzins says.

Personality conflicts began to surface on the board around this time, however, and in October, Raskin resigned. "I lost confidence in the board to move the organization forward," he says. "I knew we weren't marching together."

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