Health Trust ousts gay CEO
by Seth Hemmelgarn
The gay longtime CEO of a Silicon Valley nonprofit that provides support to people living with HIV/AIDS, homeless people, children, and others says he's left the organization after its board told him it wants a new leader.
"The board decided they wanted to go in a different direction and to do that, they decided they were looking for new leadership. ... I agreed to step aside as they look for new leadership," said Frederick J. Ferrer, 59, who joined the San Jose-based Health Trust in 2007.
Ferrer's last day was December 31. He said board members didn't tell him they had problems with him.
"I wasn't fired for performance," he said. "There's nothing illegal. Nothing happened."
Ferrer, who said he learned of the board's decision December 1, said he's "thrilled and proud of my accomplishments over the last nine years," and the organization's "great staff" and "amazing funding partners."
"I've raised millions of dollars for HIV," he said. "We have one of the best integrative models for HIV services," and "we've done amazing work in HIV housing."
The organization's also a key player in Santa Clara County's Getting to Zero initiative, which will focus on HIV prevention and increased usage of PrEP and post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP. The agency's also worked to help people who are "chronically homeless" and to assist people in getting access to food.
"We've done incredible work in all kinds of areas of health" for "the most vulnerable community members in our valley," Ferrer said. "That's really what distinguishes us in what we do. The Health Trust was really focused under my leadership around how do we serve and improve the health of the most vulnerable members of our community."
During his tenure the budget grew from about $12 million to approximately $22 million.
Asked whether he'd had disagreements with board members, Ferrer said, "Everybody always disagrees with their board. ... You always should have good, rigorous debate and have good push back from the board and staff," and then move "into getting things done."
Ferrer said he wasn't "holding back" information in responding to questions about what had happened.
"Boards choose their leaders, and it's their decision," he said. "I'm not hiding something ... That's the decision they made. You serve at the pleasure of a board."
He said he doesn't know what new direction the board wants, but "their public statements have said they're committed" to continuing the last nine years' work.
He also doesn't know whether there will be less focus on LGBT issues, and said he's "very proud" of the organization's record on LGBT health.
"It would be a mistake to change that commitment," Ferrer said.
In response to emailed questions, Charlie Bullock, Ph.D., the Health Trust's board chair since 2014 and now its interim CEO, said it's not accurate that the board told Ferrer it wanted to move in a new direction and was looking for new leadership.
"The board remains wholeheartedly committed to the important work currently underway in its three important initiatives: healthy aging, healthy eating, and healthy living and other important programs," Bullock said. "The organization is not changing direction."
He also said the board doesn't want to do less work in LGBT issues, HIV/AIDS, and homelessness.
"The Health Trust has strong programs and partnerships in housing, homelessness, aging, early childhood, health care and HIV/AIDS Services that have benefited our entire community," Bullock said. "The board remains committed to these programs, initiatives and partnerships."
Asked whether anyone on the board had a disagreement with Ferrer that had led to him being asked to leave, Bullock said, "I am not at liberty to disclose confidential conversations between Fred and the board. What I can say is that his departure was a mutual decision between Fred and the board."
Bullock, a straight ally, is 67. His salary as interim CEO is $240,000.
Ken Yeager, a gay man who is a Santa Clara County supervisor and who has worked closely with Ferrer, said of his departure, "It's all quite a mystery. ... No one quite knows what this new mysterious direction is supposed to be for the Health Trust, and we all are looking for an explanation."
Yeager said that he and other officials, including the public health director, would meet with Bullock Thursday, January 5.
Ferrer "was absolutely a perfect choice" for the Health Trust job "and he's made a huge impact on our community over the last nine years," Yeager said. "... It's going to be very hard, if not impossible, to replace Fred."
Ferrer doesn't know what exactly he'll do next.
"This was not my plan, so there's no new job in the wings or anything, but I'm really going to try to take some time off and decompress and get my energy back and then figure out what I want to do," he said.
According to the organization's 2014 Form 990, Ferrer's total compensation was $283,283.