The National Association of Community Health Centers said in an email to its contacts yesterday that Tom Van Coverden, 74, hired by NACHC in 1975 and its leader for decades, has taken leave and been replaced by an interim president and CEO.
NACHC plays a lead role in 340B provider groups’ collective political strategy. It also has a key role in covered entities’ legal response to drug manufacturers’ recent denials of 340B pricing when entities use contract pharmacies.
NACHC Board Chair Mike Holmes announced the leadership change last night in an email addressed to the association’s friends and colleagues. Multiple recipients forwarded it to 340B Report. NACHC did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Van Coverden’s leave.
No reason was given for Van Coverden’s leave. His name was not used in the email and there was no acknowledgement of the role he has played in the organization. The communication was also silent about how long his leave would last or whether the organization may be moving on. Health center stakeholders said they think that Van Coverden’s exit is permanent.
Interim President and CEO Named
“The past two years have presented a unique set of challenges that not only changed the world around us but also within the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). We are a vastly different organization than when we started out many years ago and our resilience and success for the future rests on how we rise to meet the multiple challenges confronting us now,” Holmes said in the e-mail.
“Amidst this change, I am writing to inform you that NACHC’s President and CEO is taking leave, and in the interim, the Board has appointed Rachel Gonzales-Hanson to serve in his stead,” the email continued. “We are confident in Rachel’s leadership capabilities given her decades of experience and unparalleled commitment to health centers, our patients, and our association. Rachel is eager to accelerate NACHC’s work on key priorities: a renewed commitment to equity and social justice, strengthening the infrastructure of the community health movement, building a mission driven workforce, and securing reliable funding to meet the evolving needs of communities in these pandemic times and beyond.”
Gonzalez-Hanson is NACHC’s senior vice president for Western operations. She joined the association in 2020. She is the former CEO of Texas health center Community Health Development and a former member of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers board.
Staff Turnover and a Potential Rival
NACHC marked its 50th anniversary in 2021. It reportedly has experienced significant senior staff turnover in recent years. In June 2021, community health center leaders created a new membership organization, Advocates for Community Health (ACH), to influence federal health care policy and “drive a new vision for the role health centers can and should play in an evolving 21st century health care system.” It listed nine inaugural health center members.
There are more than 1,400 federally funded health centers nationally, serving more than 30 million patients, most of them uninsured, members of racial and ethnic minority groups, and having low incomes. Essentially all health centers participate in the 340B program, experts say.
NACHC and Ryan White Clinics for 340B Access (RWC-340B) sued the federal government in 2020 to force it to finalize long delayed 340B administrative dispute resolution (ADR) regulations. On the day those regulations took effect in January 2021, NACHC and RWC-340B were the first provider groups to initiate 340B ADR proceedings against AstraZeneca and Sanofi over those companies’ 340B contract pharmacy policies.
“What a Dramatic Sea Change”
“What a dramatic sea change this is for NACHC,” said Sean Philpott-Jones, Hudson Headwaters Health Network’s (HHHN) vice president for government relations and grants management. HHHN, based in upstate New York, has had a long history and influence over the 340B program. It was one of the first 340B covered entities allowed to use multiple contract pharmacies under a federal demonstration project that began in 2001.
“We at Hudson Headwaters are very supportive of NACHC, its mission, and very supportive of its board,” Philpott-Jones said. “There have been a lot of recent departures at the director and senior leadership level at NACHC and that has been concerning for a lot of us.”
“I don’t know the reason why Tom is leaving, the fact that it was unexpected and sudden raises some concerns and questions for us,” Philpott-Jones said. “But again, the board has our complete support.”
“Maybe the change in leadership will be good for NACHC,” he continued. “We’re in a completely different era right now. I think we need people who come with new ideas and new approaches to deal with the changing health care and primary care landscape.”
Felicity Homsted, managing partner of consulting firm FQHC340B and previously chief pharmacy officer at two health centers in Maine, said that while the news about Van Coverden’s leave “comes at a challenging time in all of health care, the leadership at NACHC is well positioned, in conjunction with the state primary care associations, to continue to support health centers in their care delivery work, as well as ongoing advocacy efforts.”
“The health centers have always been strong at adapting to the needs of their communities,” Homsted said. “This time is no different. The heart of the health centers is their unrelenting focus on mission driven work, caring for their communities. This continued focus on mission will enable health centers to weather the current health-care storms.” 340B Report has reached out to other health center stakeholders involved in 340B policy and practice for their reactions to Van Coverden’s leave. Check back later for possible updates.