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Hiring of Mazzoni Center CEO lacked transparency and community input, critics say

The city's largest LGBT healthcare provider ousted its former CEO amid a slew of scandals last year. Now, the secrecy surrounding the hiring of its new CEO is under fire.

Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino is facing calls to resign from the Mazzoni Center. Critics say the center’s board of directors failed to be transparent when it hired her.
Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino is facing calls to resign from the Mazzoni Center. Critics say the center’s board of directors failed to be transparent when it hired her.Read moreMazzoni Center

The Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia's largest LGBT health-care provider, vowed it would be transparent and cast a "wide net" for diverse candidates to replace its scandal-ridden CEO, who was forced out last year as allegations of racial hostility and a medical director's sexual misconduct rocked the center.

Yet the new CEO, Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino, and the Mazzoni board of directors that hired her are facing calls to resign due, in part, to the lack of transparency surrounding the hiring.

The board hired Sciarrino last month after a committee interviewed and recommended her. Of the five people on that committee, just one was a Mazzoni staffer; the four others were board members.

A second committee composed of Mazzoni staffers and LGBT community leaders was supposed to meet final candidates and offer input. But that didn't happen. The center has said that's because some candidates requested confidentiality, making it impossible to meet staff.

Yet basic details — such as why they requested confidentiality, and how many candidates total were interviewed — remain unclear. Mazzoni refuses to say. The center also won't say how many people of color were considered for the position, citing a nondisclosure agreement it signed with a search firm that helped find candidates.

That makes it difficult to know whether Mazzoni followed through on its promise to interview a diverse pool of candidates. Voices that could have influenced the final decision were also left out, critics say.

"There could have been more community and staff involvement in a decision of this magnitude, especially considering Mazzoni's significant recent challenges," said Amber Hikes, Philadelphia's LGBT affairs director, who participated in the committee that was originally supposed to meet candidates. Instead, it just helped craft interview questions and desirable skills for the next CEO.

Some say the hiring of Sciarrino, a straight Latina from Florida, shows Mazzoni hasn't learned from its past mistakes.

"Mazzoni wasn't transparent at all from the start," said Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, a former HIV prevention counselor at the center and cofounder of the activist group Black and Brown Workers Cooperative.

The group's efforts to call out racism at the center, where black employees described being singled out for disciplinary action and facing retaliation for filing complaints, preceded former CEO Nurit Shein's ouster. The cooperative was also successful in demanding the firing of Philadelphia's former LGBT affairs director, Helen L. "Nellie" Fitzpatrick, who was criticized for not doing enough to address racism at bars in the city's Gayborhood.

Now the cooperative is demanding that Sciarrino resign.

"She's not a part of our community. That's the simplest way I can say it," Muhammad said, explaining that Sciarrino isn't from Philadelphia and doesn't identify as LGBT. "There's no reason why someone who's not a part of our community should be leading our organization."

Mazzoni has said it chose Sciarrino, the CEO of the Whole Family Health Center in South Florida, because of her leadership skills, commitment to the LGBT community, and background in finance.

A Mazzoni spokesman declined to make anyone available to answer questions about the hiring process, saying only, "At this point we are focusing our attention on Mazzoni Center's mission and ensuring we are best positioned to continue to deliver on the organization's commitment to providing quality comprehensive health and wellness services."

The center has yet to publicly respond to the Black and Brown Workers Cooperative's demands, which include a public meeting between the board and community. The cooperative has also demanded the resignation of any board members who were present when allegations of sexual misconduct by former medical director Robert Winn, who resigned last year, became known. (A former board member told Philadelphia Weekly that Winn was involved in sexual relationships with patients.)


Posted by Black & Brown Workers Cooperative on Friday, March 30, 2018

Muhammad said the cooperative had heard nothing as of Monday, the deadline it gave for Mazzoni to respond to the demands. Muhammad's group will now call for the dissolution of the board and also press city and state government officials to hold Mazzoni accountable.