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Despite unrest, board at Mazzoni Center supports its CEO

The center provides health and social services for the LGBTQ community.

Under fire from a protest group that has demanded the ouster of its chief executive officer and board president, the board of directors of the Mazzoni Center voted Thursday to stand behind both.

In a statement, the board of the well-known provider of medical services to the LGBTQ community said it had met to discuss "inaccuracies and accusations," and decided to "reaffirm its confidence" in its CEO, Nurit Shein, and board president, Jimmy Ruiz, a physician with offices in Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia.

The Center City-based Mazzoni says it serves 35,000 patients and social services clients a year.  It plans to move next month to a new space in South Philadelphia that will allow its family and community practice as well as its behavioral health program to expand.

The protest group, the Brown and Black Workers Collective, has argued that Mazzoni has shown bias against minority employees and that Shein, who has been at the agency's helm since 1995, knew for years about allegations of impropriety against medical director Robert Winn and did not act.

Winn resigned April 13. The group had been calling for Shein and Winn to leave since January, said Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, co-founder of the collective. Ruiz was added to the list more recently.

Muhammad said he was an HIV prevention counselor at Mazzoni before leaving in June 2016.  His organization, which was formed in February 2016, has about 250 members, he said. It is concerned, he said, about the lack of diversity among board members and providers as well as the "lack of support and equitable pay for front-line staff."

Shani Akilah, the collective's co-founder, responded to the board's decision by writing that "their support for Nurit Shein and Jimmy Ruiz exemplifies the loyalty of those in power to the system. This does not surprise us. They are playing out the oldest and most outdated colonialist scripts."

The group's concerns about Mazzoni have previously been covered by Philadelphia Magazine, Philadelphia Weekly and Philadelphia Gay News.

The center declined requests to speak with Shein. In a statement, it said, "There is zero tolerance at Mazzoni for anything but best practices and the highest level of care. As is our policy, we will continue to report information, as appropriate, to the relevant authorities. In the case of the recent allegations, our CEO immediately initiated a third-party investigation which is not yet complete."  The investigation is being conducted by the law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.

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," its statement continued. "We also have an obligation to help ensure that the conclusions we reach are based on facts."

Winn did not return a call to his home seeking comment.

In its statement Friday, the board said that "prior allegations were fully investigated by Mazzoni and appropriate state agencies."

The board said it would be "urgently meeting individually and in groups with staff members to listen to concerns, address them and improve communication at all levels of the organization."