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Bethesda Lutheran Communities’ CEO Leaving

Ministry posted huge losses during Mike Thirtle’s tenure as CEO

Bethesda Lutheran Communities, a ministry in Wisconsin that has been serving those with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 1937, announced that its president and chief executive officer Dr. Mike Thirtle is leaving and taking on a new role outside of the organization as of July 9.

Chief Operating Officer Dave Sneddon has been appointed as interim CEO. Sneddon joined Bethesda in 2019.

Thirtle, who is a United States Air Force veteran, worked at RAND Corporation before joining Bethesda. At Bethesda, he was the executive vice president and vice president for strategy and information services prior to become the CEO and president in 2014.

During Thirtle’s tenure as president and CEO, Bethesda racked up huge financial losses.  For the five-year period from 2015-2016, the losses totaled nearly $150-million.  The ministry apparently managed these losses by tapping the assets of the ministry.  In fiscal year 2015, it had over $282 million in assets. That dropped to about $186 million by fiscal year 2020.  The largest decreases of about $40 million occurred between 2015 and 2016 and again between 2016 and 2017.  The financial statement for Fiscal Year 2020 shows assets remaining relatively stable over the last two years.

Bethesda Lutheran Communities did not reply to multiple requests for comment about Thirtle’s departure, the operating losses, and its decrease in assets.

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The ministry has also seen a decline in revenue in recent years.  In 2015, revenue was about $128-million.  In 2019, revenue had fallen to about $103-million.

Over half of Bethesda’s operating expenses, a total of $78 million, are paid in salaries. As of 2019, three of Bethesda’s top executive officers were paid over $300,000 a year while Thirtle’s compensation was over $500,000.

On his biographical webpage, Thirtle said, “I was drawn to Bethesda because of the important mission and the opportunity to support people with intellectual and development disabilities. I am grateful to lead the wonderful group of people that we have here at Bethesda — it is a true honor and blessing. I am amazed by the impact that we make on a daily basis here at Bethesda and see the impact of God’s reach into the lives of the people we support, the staff, parents and guardians, donors, and our board.“

Bethesda offers a wide array of services to people with disabilities, including group homes, in-home support, employment support, behavior support, faith support, and financial services.

Bethesda has developed a post-secondary two-year educational experience for those with disabilities on the campus of Concordia University Wisconsin. Bethesda College of Applied Learning provides instruction in career preparation and adult living skills.

“I know that leaving was a very difficult decision for Mike given his commitment to Bethesda, the people we support and the disability community. We will be forever grateful for Mike’s hard work that helped transform the organization. That said, we are now in a position to grow many of our existing services exponentially, with several new and exciting programs under development,”  Bethesda’s Board Chairman Cesar Villalpando said in a press release.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctorate from Baylor University. She has home schooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, gardening, and coaching high school extemporaneous speaking and debate.

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