News and analysis
December 03, 2015

2 More Local Chapters Leave Alzheimer’s Association

Robin Harris Images

Wary of losing control under a national consolidation plan, Orange County and San Diego chapters join New York in striking out on their own.

Two more independent chapters defected from the Alzheimer’s Association on Thursday, dealing a further blow to the association’s plan to consolidate more than 50 independent chapters into a single charity.

The Orange County and San Diego chapters, both in California, announced they were separating from the national association, citing fears that the consolidation plan would jeopardize the local services they provide to Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. The latest departures come just a few days after the New York City chapter left the association.

The national association, which already has 27 formerly independent chapters under its umbrella, pitched the consolidation as a way to sharpen its attack on a fast-growing disease that affects more than 5-million Americans. But many independent chapters are wary they will lose control over their local assets and programs. Only half of the then 54 independent chapters voted in favor of the consolidation in September, shortly before the national board voted unanimously to move ahead with the plan.

"Simply hearing ‘We don’t plan on major changes’ isn’t great when you’re handing them the keys to the store," said Jim McAleer, president of the former Orange County chapter, now called Alzheimer’s Orange County.

Local Control

Mr. McAleer said his chapter educated 30,000 local caregivers last year and reaches out to local doctors twice a year to keep them abreast of best practices for diagnosing the disease.

Mary Ball, president of the former San Diego chapter, now called Alzheimer’s San Diego, said the consolidation would have jeopardized local programs that served 30,000 local residents last year.

"When you look at the merger agreement, it’s fairly clear that the national association in Chicago will have all the control," she said.

Stewart Putnam, the chairman of the board of the national association, said he still expects the "vast majority" of the independent chapters to join the unified organization. Some change is inevitable, he notes — and chapters will be more likely to adopt programs that are demonstrated to work once they’re part of a more tightly coordinated association. A committee led by chapter executives is focused on making sure that the "care and support" services provided by the chapters are of high quality, he says.

"We need to be open to evolving programs as we gain a greater understanding as to what’s really effective."