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Meridian’s CEO Retiring After 36 Years of Service

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Longtime executive, at the largest comprehensive provider of mental health and substance use disorder treatment services in North Central Florida, will step down after 36 years.

Meridian’s President and CEO Maggie Labarta Ph.D. gave her official retirement notice to Meridian’s Board of Directors on April 8, 2019. After 18 years leading the healthcare provider headquartered in Gainesville, Florida, Labarta will retire on December 31, 2019. Labarta first came to Meridian in 1983. Prior to becoming CEO, she directed its rural clinics, Children’s Department, and Acute Care Services, including the Crisis Stabilization Unit. Labarta has also practiced as a clinical psychologist, specializing in children and families, provided clinical and management training, and consulted on strategic planning to a number of organizations.

Hallmarks of Labarta’s tenure are growth and innovation. Labarta took the helm of a much smaller organization in 2000, serving 6,000 clients in treatment, in 10 counties, with annual revenue of 19 million. Today, according to Meridian’s 2018 Annual Report, Meridian provides treatment to almost 20,000 clients from 16 North Central Florida counties, with annual revenues of 44 Million. Additionally, in the past year, under Labarta’s leadership, the healthcare provider launched a mental health co-responder program in partnership with Gainesville Police Department, City of Gainesville, and LSF Health Systems, which is proving stellar outcomes. Furthermore, she initiated Telehealth, technology assisted therapy, and two primary care clinics in Gainesville and Lake City. The clinics integrate medical healthcare with mental healthcare providing better outcomes for those in treatment for mental illness and substance use disorders.

“I am most proud that Meridian’s growth has come from meeting needs and solving problems. Our growth was not about chasing dollars, it was about staying true to our mission and meeting the needs of individuals and the community,” said Labarta. “It has been a real privilege to serve as CEO because I am in a line of longstanding successful leaders. Meridian has had the benefit of long-term leadership from its earliest days. Doug Starr and Jim Winters came before me and they always focused on mission, service, and need. I felt like Meridian was a place where I was able to grow and develop because of their leadership, and so, my planned two-year tenure plan has turned into 36 years.

Our growth was not about chasing dollars, it was about staying true to our mission and meeting the needs of individuals and the community.

Maggie Labarta

The Board of Directors’ search committee, chaired by Jeff Feller, chief executive officer of WellFlorida Council, will identify a successor through a nationwide search. “A true leader has the ability to elevate the aspirations and performance of those around her, regardless of her position or role within an organization or endeavor. In that sense, Maggie has been and will always be the truest of leaders. While her shoes will indeed be challenging to fill, we will continue to travel the path of excellence that Maggie has blazed forward,” said Feller.

Maggie Labarta

The search committee is comprised of six board members and Jackie Knabel SPHR, senior vice president/chief human resources officer of Meridian. The CEO’s position announcement will release later this month, aiming to identify the next CEO by September, therefore, allowing for a smooth and successful transition for Labarta’s successor.

When asked, Labarta said, “For me, the future holds nothing early in the morning, no 7am meetings, going to the gym more frequently, taking art lessons, bringing what I have learned to other nonprofits through consulting, and remaining a passionate advocate for Meridian and those that suffer from mental illnesses and substance use disorders. I am looking forward to seeing the next CEO’s creativity and energy at work at Meridian as it has places to go and many problems to solve.”

Joy Riddle CFRE, senior vice president/chief development officer at Meridian said, “Maggie’s leadership is really one of inspiration, accountability, and successful outcomes, to that end, be on the lookout for future announcements about our plans to honor and celebrate her impact including a retrospective on her time with Meridian on social media #MaggieMondays.


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