Lawyers help guide center through a growth phase

By Mike Scott

Legal News

The Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center relies on a cadre of donors and volunteers to help provide service to area residents who need assistance with behavioral health issues.

And like many other not-for-profit organizations, Sacred Heart also relies heavily on lawyers to help provide volunteer services and other business and legal assistance.

So it should not be a surprise that three members of the center's board members are area lawyers, individuals that have a long association with the not-for profit organization.

The Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center provides behavioral health assistance and service, including medical and emotional assistance for individuals with such illnesses as substance-abuse problems, HIV/AIDS and various outpatient and inpatient services. Providing assistance for these problems is one of many societal issues that can be handled, said Sheryl Laughren, a partner with Berry Moorman, the current chairman of the board of directors of the center.

There are nine Sacred Heart facilities across the state, including two in Detroit.

"There is so much work to be done and some of society's problems seem to be unsolvable," said Laughren, noting that there are nine Sacred Heart facilities in Michigan. "Drug and alcohol addiction, for example, shouldn't be one of those problems because great organizations like Sacred Heart can do so much."

Laughren and fellow attorneys Brian Balow with Dickinson Wright and Stephen Selander, an attorney in Rochester, serve in an oversight role. While the attorney board members do not act as lawyers for the center, they can provide expertise, consulting and business acumen when needed.

Laughren specializes in labor and employment and litigation as well as not-for-profit law. During her 10 years on the center's board of directors, she has been able to provide her insight from a legal perspective on many business, governance, and other issues.

"I'm not sure that you can find many charitable boards and organizations in the area where lawyers don't serve on a board or participate in a voluntary capacity," Laughren said. "Being a board member is a natural for many of us because lawyers by our very nature are used to the art of debate and discussion. We can increase the quality of public discussions on basic and (controversial) issues."

In 1997, Selander was approached by a General Motors Employee Assistance Program staff member to join Laughren on the Board of Directors of New Life Home for Recovering Alcoholic Women, Inc. She thought that with his legal experience, Selander could be of assistance as a board member.

He eventually became treasurer and vice-chairperson for two years and chairperson of the board of New Life Home for six years between 1997 and 2007.

Selander finds that his legal training is helpful to Sacred Heart in a number of ways. It helps him understand the variety of issues that face the board and allows him to more easily come up with practical solutions to problems.

"Although my practice is specialized and not directly relevant to a board role, I was able to spot legal issues and seek assistance from other lawyers who had more directly relevant legal expertise," Selander said.

Balow has served as a board member and volunteer with Sacred Heart for several years and feels strongly about the organization's efforts to maintain a cohesive family structure even while treating one or more family members. As someone who works with healthcare clients such as nursing homes and assisted living centers from time to time, Balow says his involvement with Sacred Heart helps to keep him educated about a variety of health care issues.

Balow also participates in the organization's regulatory committee.

"There are a variety of governance issues that not-for-profits need to be aware of," Balow said. "Not all charities are tax-exempt."

Sacred Heart shares the treatment philosophy of New Life and was equally committed to services for residents of the City of Detroit. So in December 2007, Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center completed an asset purchase of New Life Home. Selander joined the Board of Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center, Inc. in early 2008 and is currently the head of the Fund-raising Committee.

Sacred Heart was founded in 1967 and has grown over the years in scope and size. It recently opened up a full continuum of specialty care for women as part of a program that allows them to still care for their children. In the past, Sacred Heart's programs were often prohibitive for single mothers because of their parental responsibilities.

Now single mothers can have residential treatment that allow their children to stay with them on site in a safe and secure environment, Laughren said. This program incorporates a variety of health, parenting, child care, case management, specialized medical care and additional services with a course of substance abuse treatment.

"The testimonials of the services that the center provides are seen in the testimonials of graduates who have gone through the program," she said.

Offering time and expertise to charitable groups is something that helps lawyers to become more effective at their trade, Laughren said. Such activities allow many lawyers to see society from a variety of perspectives.

"Over the years we've gotten some bad raps as lawyers, but lawyers give back all the time," Laughren said. "I know I have been able to see life from different perspectives by the work I have done with Sacred Heart."

Balow believes that it is important for lawyers serving as board members of non-profits not to serve in a dual role as their official legal counsel. However, he does provide insight on a variety of issues that impact Sacred Heart, such as the impact of heightened IRS scrutiny on non-profits in recent years.

"There is some basic governance principles that I can shed some light on in an unofficial capacity," Balow said. "All not-for-profits need to make sure that they understand by-laws and other IRS requirements."

Selander sees the tremendous service that Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Center provides, and understands the positive impact it has on communities around the state.

"I am impressed with the variety of programs Sacred Heart offers. As it states (on Sacred Heart's Web site), 'Sacred Heart offers a broad continuum of top quality, evidence-based services to treat behavioral health disorders, provided in a variety of settings.'"

"All clients, regardless of financial status, should have the right care, at the right time and in the right setting."

Published: Mon, Feb 22, 2010