Note: This story has been updated since its original posting.
Last year’s much-heralded merger of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), housed at Columbia University, and Join Together, of the Boston University School of Public Health, which was to move to New York, has failed after about six months.
Join Together reemerged on Facebook on Jan. 25 after largely being absent since May 2009 when the merger took place. A tweet the next morning announced that Join Together was on Twitter.
But no humans involved in tying the knot, and then untying it, were willing to talk about what happened, except a lone CASA spokeswoman who said it just “didn’t work out.”
Joseph Califano, head of CASA, and David Rosenbloom, head of Join Together, were both on vacation today, according to their staffs, and could not be reached.
A senior staffer at Join Together, who asked not to be named, offered only that "there was a poor match of organizational cultures.”
The staffer would not say whether Join Together walked away from CASA, or vice versa.
The first public indication of the divorce, in late January, went essentially unnoticed by the media. CASA announced the hiring of Bill Foster as its new CEO, and that he would take over for current CEO Joseph Califano. But Rosenbloom had become CEO when the merger became official in May, which means he left with no statement from CASA in between that month and January.
Then came a letter last week from Rosenbloom to Join Together’s members, saying that Join Together was back in Boston and essentially facing destitution.
“The merger of Join Together and CASA, which took effect last May, did not work out as we had hoped,” Rosenbloom said in the letter. “Join Together returned to the Boston University School of Public Health, and I completed my service at CASA.”
The announcement of their pending merger came about this time last year, and then it was portrayed as the perfect union.
CASA, one of the most recognizable names in the drug use research field, and Join Together, well-known for dissemination of news and resources on the subject, would merge and Join Together would take on CASA’s name. Rosenbloom would be CEO of the new organization and Califano would become a very active member of the board of directors.
“Clearly, this makes CASA the powerhouse in substance abuse field,” Califano told Youth Today at the time. In a statement issued the same week, he said that “David Rosenbloom is the individual best suited to move CASA forward and increase its influence and activities.”
The merger took place in May and all seemed to be wedded bliss. Until the announcements came out about the two separate organizations with no mention of what had come between them.
“It didn’t work out,” CASA spokesperson Lauren Duran told Youth Today, using the same phrase Rosenbloom had in his letter. Asked why, she replied, “That’s our only statement.”
So both sides are playing the amicable divorce card. Except, in real divorce, amicability is not the norm when one side is left nearly penniless.
“The short term outlook is bleak,” Rosenbloom told members in his letter. “Join Together will cease to exist by the Fall of 2010 unless we raise the money needed to fund our programs through 2011.”
No answers were forthcoming from either group as to which leader made the decision that Join Together would leave, or whether some of Join Together’s previous grants would remain behind with CASA.
At least one of Join Together’s funders – the Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – said it is transferring the remainder of its grant back to Boston University where Rosenbloom returned. That was a $2.5 million grant to expand the organization’s reach and offerings, and it is up in 2010.
At CASA, the new face of the organization is a familiar one. Foster spent the last four years as the dean of the University of Southern Maine’s Edmund Muskie School of Public Service, but before that he was CASA’s senior vice president and chief operating officer for 10 years. His resume also includes time spent as the Congressional Commission on Social Security’s executive director, the New Jersey Department of Labor’s chief of staff and deputy commissioner and Sen. Bill Bradley’s policy adviser.