Hope Network CEO Phil Weaver expects a “great year” for the Michigan and U.S. economies in 2017, although he worries about uncertainty created by the likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act or significant changes that may occur to the program. The Grand Rapids-based Hope Network provides neuro-rehabilitation for people with brain injuries, behavioral health care, and services and housing for people with a developmental disability. Hope Network employs about 2,800 people statewide and has an annual operating budget of about $140 million.
What do you see the economy doing next year?
I’m actually very optimistic about next year for a lot of reasons. I do think the economy is going to continue to do well, and particularly West Michigan is going to continue to rise. I also think the whole state of Michigan is going to continue to tremendously rise. I’ve been in Detroit a couple times in the last few months with some business leaders, and I have to tell you, they’re turning around over there, too. The opportunities are going to be tremendous and we’re going to have a great year, not only for the state and West Michigan but for the country.
Presuming the outlooks are correct, how does the economy remaining in good shape play into your favor?
My opinion has always been that the stronger the economy, the more people can work and the more opportunities for the people that we serve. As that continues, we’re getting a lot more traction, as an example, for our ex-offender (job training) programs and our immigrant programs. When you have an ex-offender, back in 2008 and 2009 when everything was falling apart, nobody wanted to look at anybody except for the perfect candidate. Now they’re giving people an opportunity and those people are performing exceptionally well. We’re all learning that individuals, no matter their background, sometimes when you give them a chance, they exceed your expectations.
What’s new for Hope Network in 2017?
Three months ago I had a better idea. Since the presidential election, we don’t know where health care is going. I don’t think anybody can put their finger on that. We’re feeling the landscape very carefully because we want to know where health care is going. We really believe in integrated health care, where people — whatever their abilities are, whether they have a mental health issue or a developmental disability or other issue — need to get better health care and at lower cost. Integrating health care is a way to do that. So we think that’s the future of where we’re going to be expanding.
What emerged in 2016 that you’ll have to continue dealing with next year?
In Michigan, there’s this language that was put in the (mental health) budget last year, which talked about how things are going to change. We don’t know where that’s going — in the same way we don’t know about the Affordable Care Act — but that’s made an impact with our decisions this last year. We didn’t know where some of the things were going, so we didn’t make some of the investments we potentially could have made.
How does that affect decision making for 2017?
We’re still not making some investments in new programs and new things because we don’t know if they’re going to be needed or accepted in the future, so we’re trying to evaluate that. Any time financing models change for nonprofits and the services that we do, whether it’s mental health or whatever, that concerns us.
What keeps a nonprofit CEO up at night these days?
The problem of finding qualified staff that can do the work that we do. We’re not the highest paying organization in West Michigan and we have staff in the nonprofit world we don’t pay as much, generally. That does impact our opportunity to grow and I worry about that. We worry about not finding the right staff and a staff that has a passion for this work. It’s not much different than any other CEO in any other organization. I worry about the same things they worry about.
What would surprise you in 2017?
The biggest surprise is going to be what the Trump administration does or doesn’t do. Right now, a lot of people are excited about his economic policies. … ‘He’s going to cut tax rates and he’s going to do this and this and this.’ It all sounds great, and I understand what he’s trying to do — and, by the way, I’m encouraged by it — but it’s getting it through the people that are in Washington, D.C., that worries me. The surprise will be if he gets everything he wants to do.