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New CEO embracing role at HMH

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Dennis Johnson adopts multi-layered philosophy toward patient care

By Marty Finley

Dennis Johnson’s transition to Hardin Memorial Hospital has been anything but dull.

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Two months into his new position, Johnson said the experience is comparable to “drinking water from a fire hose” in terms of intensity and breadth of processes to absorb.

Johnson was appointed president and chief executive officer by Baptist Healthcare System, which manages HMH, and took over in February after former HMH President and CEO David Gray was promoted to president of Baptist Hospital East in Louisville.

ohnson comes to Hardin County with 21 years of experience in the Baptist Healthcare System, including roughly 13 years at Gray’s previous job at the helm of Baptist Hospital Northeast in Oldham County.

While at Baptist Northeast, Johnson ushered the facility through expansions, including the addition of a 30,000-square-foot medical plaza that featured additional physician space and a two-story atrium. He also oversaw construction of Baptist Crestwood outpatient facility and was named Oldham Countian of the Year in 2009.

Although Hardin County dwarfs his former home, Johnson said he has noticed similarities between the two counties when talking about importance of community.

Johnson also is accustomed to following Gray because for years the two men have been on a similar trajectory. Johnson was a year behind Gray at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where he completed his graduate work with a focus on health administration.

Johnson, a native of Pensacola, Fla., completed his studies in Alabama, first receiving an undergraduate degree at the University of Alabama.

When he left UAB, there were only 35 to 40 programs in the country where he could complete his residency, he said. Nowadays, he estimates there are upward of 400.

After graduating, he received three offers in metropolitan areas, including Atlanta and Nashville. He chose to take a position with Baptist Healthcare in Louisville. By happenstance, it was the job farthest from his home.

When he arrived just after Christmas 1989, the temperature had plummeted well below zero and several inches of snow was packed on the ground.

“I thought I had made a mistake and moved to the arctic north,” he said.

Johnson’s love for medicine was fostered at an early age. His mother was a medical secretary and the hospital was a second home because of his injury-prone lifestyle.

“I spent my childhood in the ER,” he said.

Through the years, he met several mentors and teachers who pushed him and molded his focus toward management.

Johnson said he has been impressed by HMH employees, joking that most must have started working in elementary school because the typical employee he meets has been at HMH for 30 years or more.

He also recognizes the potential in Hardin County through population growth prompted by job growth at Fort Knox. Johnson said he wants the hospital to bottle and build upon the growth.

Johnson also wants to maintain and improve upon the level of care patients have come to expect from HMH over the years.

In addressing  health care reform, he said hospitals that survive and thrive under the new regulations, once written, will be those that provide high quality care while keeping costs low — are a model HMH exemplifies.

And talking with the medical staff, he has found HMH is well equipped to compete with the best hospitals in the state because it has ready access to the latest in technology physicians need to do their jobs, he said.

Similarly, treatment and surgery techniques have improved to a level that allows for minimally invasive procedures, Johnson said. That, in turn, helps patients mend and return to work quicker.

“We’ve got just as good, if not better, equipment than the Louisville hospitals,” he said.

But Johnson’s philosophies on health care and the healing process are not based solely on the physical. Patient care, he added, also must be sensitive and understanding of the emotional and spiritual needs of every individual.

“It’s a little like a church,” Johnson said of HMH. “It’s not bricks and mortar, it’s the people.”

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or at mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.