How to do the right thing

Maintaining the status quo is easy, change isn’t

While doing research for a previous article, I was chatting with Mary Woods, CEO of WestBridge Community Services in Manchester. She said something I found interesting: “We were started by a family in Pennsylvania who wanted to help other families not go through the treatment experiences that they had encountered. We are very fortunate to be a private nonprofit, private-pay organization; we can do what works and be flexible and innovative too!”

How often have we heard CEOs and senior managers say, “I know what we need to do, but if I don’t make my numbers, I lose my job”? So naturally, I was intrigued by Mary’s statement, and she invited me to take a look.

WestBridge was founded by Loralee West and Alfred West Jr., CEO of SEI Investments, because they had a son who had both schizophrenia and substance abuse problems. The Wests wanted to save other families some of the pain and difficulty their family had experienced.

WestBridge provides both residential and outpatient care for people with “co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse disorders.” They have a satellite facility in Florida, and they get patients from all over the country at both facilities.

Being a private nonprofit enables them to focus on what works for patients. Instead of looking for financial payback or ROI for any particular treatment, they look for improvement in the patient’s condition as justification. If it works, if it produces the desired results, they find a way to afford it.

Like most nonprofits that are private-pay, WestBridge has to balance the books, a sometimes delicate operation. They don’t want to make too much money, nor can they sustain much of a loss, at least not repeatedly. 

WestBridge is particularly fortunate in that their founders have not abandoned them. If they run a loss, they can access a West foundation and receive the funds to make up the difference – a safety net they try hard not to abuse.

Vilifying rich people has become popular with some politicians and our media. We forget that it’s only the rich that can create such services out of the goodness of their hearts, and many do. Regardless of who we are, it’s difficult to live in our country without benefiting from some kind of philanthropy, but we take so many of them for granted.

Whether you call WestBridge or show up in person, you’re immediately impressed by the gracious treatment you receive. They make you feel like an important celebrity, and that’s not quite what we’re used to when we call a medical facility.

The management and treatments are team-based. They work collaboratively, even using technology to get people in the room across geographies. When running a staff meeting, the people in Florida can participate with those in Manchester through monitors that show the people and the slides. It’s not quite like being there, but it’s pretty close.

They have an extensive screening process to ensure prospective patients fit the niche in which they specialize. This technology helps there too, but much of the screening is done in person, at the center or the patient’s location. How many doctors or hospitals do you know that will come to you to see if they can help?

And the work is satisfying. Ryan Mulholland, director of business development, says it doesn’t even feel like work. You can tell these folks love their jobs, bringing so many patients back from the brink of despair.

So why can’t some of this work in public, for-profit corporations? Well, regardless of profit or nonprofit, you have a lot more flexibility if you stay private. In either case, most companies have to turn a profit to survive.

Even so, some of this do-the-right-thing-no-matter-what does work in the for-profit arena, but it takes a CEO with an awful lot of nerve and the ability to sell what he’s doing to investors and others. These folks are few and far between.

Lee Iacocca’s rescue of Chrysler immediately comes to mind. He got the loan guarantees he needed from Congress and told everybody they would lose money for a while, but it worked, and he became a legend in his own time. 

Lou Gerstner rescued IBM. He knew almost nothing about computers, but he knew how a business is supposed to run, and he had the nerve to stare down the whole organization. 

No doubt, people like this bet the farm. They bet everybody’s jobs, but isn’t that better than trying to maintain the status quo and slowly dying? 

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or