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CEO Of Safety Net Clinic In Lawrence Is Suspended Pending Financial Review

Heartland Community Health Center

This story was updated at 3:22 p.m. on March 15 to include Jon Stewart's statement.   

The CEO of a safety net clinic in Lawrence, Kansas, has been suspended pending completion of a review of the organization's finances.

In a release Wednesday evening, the board of Heartland Community Health Center said it had suspended Jon Stewart and appointed the clinic’s chief operating officer as interim CEO.

Melanie Coen, a spokeswoman for Heartland, said the board discovered what she described as commingling of personal and corporate funds and discrepancies in the way that money had been allocated.

“I believe they were just doing auditing on a variety of different things and this came up through that,” Coen said.  

She said the board had enlisted outside forensic experts to investigate. Asked if the matter had been turned over to authorities, she said “not at this time.”

Stewart on Thursday issued a statement through his attorney, Dan Watkins, saying he was "shocked and dismayed" that he had been suspended without pay. 

"I had no opportunity to address any issues the board apparently found as grounds for action," he said. "I look forward to the opportunity to meet with the auditors the board has engaged to review my expenditures, which they told me relate to travel expenses to a national conference on community healthcare. I do not believe any of my actions warrant the severe action the board has taken. Certainly, everything I have done has been disclosed." 

Heartland is one of about 30 federally qualified health centers in Kansas providing primary and preventive care to patients regardless of their ability to pay. That classification makes it eligible for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

Last year, it announced a merger with another community health care provider in Lawrence, Health Care Access. The two organizations collectively serve about 5,700 patients.

In his statement, Stewart said the merger had "created a tremendous strain on the culture of the organization."

Heartland was founded by a church more than a decade ago and its mission statement is “to transform the health and lives of those in need through the love of Jesus.”

Besides providing an array of health care services, including primary care, behavioral health care and dentistry, it offers patients rent and utility assistance and a food pantry.

Stewart has been with the organization since 2008. In 2015, the last year for which information is available, he was paid more than $135,000 in salary and other compensation, according to Heartland’s Form 990 with the IRS.   

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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