After months of meetings over coffee and reflection over his next move, Paul Thein has found a new purpose.
It’s a purpose that will keep him in Naples and keep him building partnerships in the community, with the goal of making it a healthier place.
Thein, the former president and CEO of the Greater Naples YMCA, has joined Community Health Partners of Iowa as its new senior executive vice president for advancement and partnerships. He’s been tapped to grow the health and wellness company’s presence in Southwest Florida — including its connections with local Y’s.
“It grew legs before I officially came aboard, so we’re hitting the ground running,” he said.
Thein, 51, resigned from the Naples Y in September under pressure from a board that wanted to go in a new direction.
“We were growing, and I was shocked,” he said.
After his sudden, unexpected departure from the Y, he had many “discovery” meetings over coffee about job opportunities, but he wanted to find something he could be as passionate about as the Y.
“I’m not 30 years old anymore,” he said. “So it has to be the right opportunities — and an opportunity for growth.”
Thein discovered Community Health Partners during his five-year tenure as CEO of Waycross YMCA in Georgia.
After moving to Naples, he started talking to Community Health founding principal and President Jon Garnaas about opening a therapy center at the Naples Y.
“I just didn’t think I would be working for him,” Thein said. “I thought I’d retire at the Y. I’m a Y guy.”
Thein’s new base of operations is a small corner office at the Naples Accelerator, a government-funded center designed to grow startups in Collier County.
“This is home,” he said. “It’s new to me, but I’m liking it.”
A collection of honors hangs on the walls, including a framed story from Naples Illustrated that touts his accomplishments at the Naples Y and refers to him as a “Super Man.”
Community Health Partners was born out of a collaboration between the YMCA and a hospital in Clive, Iowa. The idea is to connect clinic to community, offering patient-centered care closer to where people live and work, including wellness screenings, physical assessments, health coaching, educational classes and physical therapy.
“It’s really about prevention. It’s about restoration. It’s about rehabilitation,” Garnaas said.
Besides managing medically integrated health and wellness programs at several YMCAs, the for-profit company offers its services through municipalities and other businesses. It also supports a free-standing Healthy Living Center in North Kansas City, Missouri.
“We obviously see great potential in Florida,” Garnaas said. “We have been looking to open an office in Naples for some time.”
When the opportunity to hire Thein arose, Garnaas, a seasonal resident of Naples, said he jumped on it.
“I love his passion. I love his energy and his definite desire to make a difference,” he said.
One of Thein’s first missions is to open two diabetes education and navigation centers in Southwest Florida by the end of the year. Community Health already has struck a partnership with the Help a Diabetic Child Foundation and has gained the support of the Weny Charitable Trust, which has agreed to help fund the effort.
The new Weny Diabetes Education and Navigation Centers will offer a menu of services, from diabetes self-management education and nutrition therapy to health coaching and tailored exercise programs.
Community Health also wants to work with employers here and eventually across Florida to help them provide chronic disease prevention and wellness programs to their employees.
“A lot of companies are pledging to be Blue Zones. We want to help them put that into action,” Thein said.
Thein sees the opportunity to offer his new employer’s health and wellness programs through homeowners associations in community gyms, clubhouses and halls.
He’s also confident he’ll have the Y’s in Southwest Florida in his corner as partners.
“I hope we don’t stop growing,” Thein said. “I want to start in Naples and Lee County. But I don’t want to stop. This doesn’t have a vision to stop.”
He believes he can make a big difference in the community in his new role. That’s why he chose it over other job prospects, which included serving the hungry and homeless.
“I want to do something good for the community,” Thein said. “If it’s just selling something and it’s not good for the community, I’m out.”
He hangs on tightly to a Y motto: “Better together.”
“Partnerships, partnerships,” he said, “it’s what makes the most of your budget. It can stretch everyone’s budget.”
A native of Minnesota, Thein said he considered a move up North after leaving the Naples Y, including the possibility of leading a YMCA in New York, but he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of shoveling snow and ice again.
It was hard to leave Naples for other reasons.
“I couldn’t leave the relationships,” Thein said.
He’s hard at work developing new and expanded relationships with such organizations as the NCH Healthcare System and Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, the largest provider of primary medical care for low-income residents, with a location a few steps from Thein’s new office.
The Healthcare Network expects to break ground on a new $15 million clinic in Golden Gate this summer. Thein hopes the clinic can include services offered through Community Health Partners, such as counseling for diabetes.
On Friday, Thein showed off a new 3-D video conferencing technology developed by Buffalo Pacific in Ohio that’s on display at The Healthcare Network, which he hopes to tap into for the benefit of Community Health Partners’ clients, especially in more rural areas such as Immokalee.
The portal has the ability to immediately connect patients with doctors and other health care experts who appear to be transported into the room and seem so close that you could give them a fist bump.
Though one door has closed, another has opened for Thein.
While he’s not happy with some of the changes at the Naples Y since he left, he said he respects the board and wishes it the best as it begins a national search for his permanent replacement with a new job description.