Those are the options available to Alzheimer’s Association chapters across the nation as they face a consolidation move made by their national board of directors — a push that has created deep divisions within the country’s leading network of groups devoted to helping people deal with a fast-growing disease that still has no cure or effective treatment.
The San Diego affiliate has much at stake, including questions about the future of a special caregiver-support program it runs, a $1 million donation it received recently for training and outreach, and its leading role in a groundbreaking initiative that has united scientists, patient advocates, philanthropists and lawmakers in raising regional awareness of Alzheimer’s.
The 54 independently run chapters have until Jan. 15 to decide whether they will sign a merger agreement, which would transfer their operational authority and financial oversight to the headquarters staff, or continue operating independently but without the nationwide organization’s established name recognition.
The consolidation strategy is the latest in a series of reorganization efforts among large charity groups that seek to concentrate decision-making powers in a bid for greater national influence. The American Cancer Society recently completed a similar roll-up, for example, while the American Heart Association centralized more than a decade ago.
Supporters of consolidation said it can reduce overhead costs, increase quality control and enable organizations to take broader and higher-profile actions — all without sacrificing the capacity to meet distinctive needs in one city versus another.
Opponents said they fear losing the flexibility that allows them to tailor programs to the specific needs of individual communities and pursue their own innovative ideas.
In an Oct. 3 vote taken during the association’s national assembly, exactly half of the independent chapters voted against consolidation while the other half backed it.
John Nienstedt, secretary of the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter board, said members are wrestling with concerns about their ability to sustain locally focused programs and about what they believe are disturbing financial trends in the headquarter office’s tax statements.
“Given what we’ve seen from national, we’re not confident they could do justice to, or replicate, what we’re doing in San Diego,” Nienstedt said.
By most measures, San Diego has been doing quite a bit on the anti-Alzheimer’s front during recent years.
(Click here to read the full article, written by Paul Sisson, SD Union Tribune)