Ep 108: A New CEO Job Starts in the Heat of a Pandemic (with Ellen LaPointe)

by Joan Garry

Imagine you start a new CEO job at a wonderful nonprofit. And then a pandemic hits. Changes things just a bit, right? That’s what happened to my guest.


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Imagine you were just hired as the CEO of a wonderful nonprofit. A health organization. It’s exciting. You feel a sense of pride and privilege. You gather your belongings and leave your family on the West Coast to start your new job on the East Coast. They will join you soon.

While you know the Coronavirus is becoming a big problem, it doesn’t quite register how it will impact work and home.

You arrive at your new job and 18 hours later find yourself leading the Incident Command Team for a pandemic that is now clearly sweeping the globe. Oh, and borders have closed and COVID-19 has kept the family apart since March 7th.

Ellen LaPointe, CEO of Fenway Health joins the podcast to tell the story of how she took on her new role, met and bonded with her team, and how they came together. How their ingenuity, teamwork and force-of-will helped them to make immediate and dramatic shifts to reduce community spread of COVID-19, all while delivering care to patients in a completely new way.

Ellen also shared a bit about her personal story and how she affected an onboarding 101 plan at both a leadership and staff level.

Listen for tips on leadership during a crisis and beyond.

About Ellen

Ellen LaPointe is the Chief Executive Officer of Fenway Health in Boston.

Ellen has held numerous leadership roles in the nonprofit and public health sectors, working in social justice, research, LGBTQIA+/HIV activism and advocacy, health policy, law, and equity over the last three decades.

Prior to joining Fenway, she was President and Chief Executive Officer of Northern California Grantmakers in San Francisco, a nonprofit that brings together Bay Area philanthropy to advance the common good. During her tenure over five years, the organization strengthened its leading role within a member-based philanthropic community that gives over $3.5 billion annually. Ellen is also credited with transforming the culture of the organization, including the establishment of a robust equity framework to inform organizational priorities and practices.

Previously, Ellen served as Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at HopeLab, an operating foundation that focuses on technology-based approaches to promoting positive health behavior, and she was Executive Director of Project Inform.

She began her career as Coordinator of the Brown University AIDS Program, where she was involved in some of the earliest efforts to ensure access to promising experimental AIDS treatments and life-saving care. Ellen moved to San Francisco to become Director of Clinical Research at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital and later practiced law at a large firm, where she represented pro bono clients in cases involving marriage equality, wrongful eviction, end-of-life liberty, and other matters.

A native of Maine, Ellen earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University and her Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. She currently serves on the boards of the Lambda Literary Foundation and One Justice.

In this Podcast:

  • The challenges of converting to telehealth with HIPAA compliance
  • How imagination kicks in during a crisis
  • Will there be capacity to integrate telehealth going forward? Or will we go back to business as usual?
  • How does communication lead to success?
  • 5 things you need to do during onboarding
  • How does humble confidence play a role in success
  • The art and value of self-care
  • You might not be able to plan for a specific crisis, but you can still plan
  • Reusing structures that were in place during previous crisis
  • A priest and a therapist walk into a bar…