The Downfall of Bernadine Healy

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The Downfall of Bernadine Healy

When Bernadine Healy was chosen to succeed Elizabeth Dole as president of the Red Cross she joined an organization rich in history. She had strong credentials to her name as the former head of the National Institutes of Health, a Harvard Medical School graduate, and as the dean of the Ohio Medical School. Yet this brilliant professional was forced to resign as president of the Red Cross after less than two years with the organization. Her downfall within this organization can be attributed to bureaucratic elements within the Red Cross and a perceived lack of public service motives.

The Red Cross has a long tradition of public service dating back to the 1800s. This organization was originally the American branch of the International Red Cross. It was officially chartered by Congress as the American Red Cross in 1900 but a new congressional charter in 1905 is what led to its current bureaucratic state. The 1905 charter made the American Red Cross into a quasi-governmental agency. Its growth over the next century would make it "America's premier, nonprofit disaster-relief organization with much of its work accomplished through volunteers in its 1034 local chapters across the United States" (Stillman, 2010). Though its original mission was to assist wounded soldiers on the battlefield the Red Cross has since branched out into multiple branches of service. As this organization grew it gave way to several bureaucratic elements.

The Red Cross most certainly has a division or power and hierarchical order which are considered to be two of the most important attributes in Weber's concept of bureaucracy. Not only is the Red Cross divided into geographical regions but it is also divided into 6 distinct services divisions. Aside from the hierarchy within its divisions the American Red Cross is overseen by a president and a 50-member Board of Governors. Yet this organization lacks a true set of impersonal rules. There is no true set of performance standards within this organization as is evident from an instance in which Healy discovered a director and a bookkeeper of chapter in New Jersey were indicted on charges of stealing $1 million dollars in funds from the Red Cross yet the Board and other administrators preferred for these employees to be suspended with pay. She was also met with resistance for hiring professional executives rather than continue the dominance of insiders and volunteers with no qualifications.

While Weber believed that bureaucracy was the only way for society to function effectively he also believed that "once it is fully established, bureaucracy is among those social structures which are the hardest to destroy" (Weber, 1946). Herein lies the root of Healy's demise as president of the American Red Cross. Healy was brought in as an agent of change, someone who could make things happen and reform the organization. Yet every decision she made was met with resistance by the very Board of Governors that elected her as president. The organizational changes she proposed were rebuffed even as the Board advocated a need for change. The bureaucratic tendencies that had set in within this organization have proved difficult to overcome.

While they tout some bureaucratic tendencies this organization contradicts others. "Bureaucrats are supposed to obey, and be the guardians of, constitutional principles, the law, and professional standards" (Olsen, 2006) yet actions by Healy to hold people to those standards were repeatedly rebuffed. This is telling of an identity crisis within the organization. As Healy herself pointed out "management structure was almost militaristic...[but] unlike the military, there were few commonly understood performance measures, and almost no system of reward or consequences for performance" (Stillman, 2010).

While the structural integrity within the Red Cross may have been the lion's den that Healy was tossed into with no hope for survival she...
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