If Tim Johnsen, new president of Integris Baptist Medical Center, needs a quick recharge in his busy work day, he simply runs up a few floors and sits at a patient's bedside.
Many an administrative peer might find such communication awkward, but it comes naturally to Johnsen, 50, who began his 25-year health career as a critical care nurse.
Johnsen joined Integris Jan. 2 from Mercy Hospital and Clinics Hot Springs, where he'd worked since 2006, and included a stint as president and chief executive.
For now, his wife still resides in Hot Springs, Ark., where their son is in high school and his daughter is planning a spring wedding.
Aside from visiting with patients, Johnsen is enjoying getting to know the some 2,700 staff members at Integris' main campus.
“I have a folksy communications style. I like to communicate often and be transparent,” he said. “Fortunately, I'm following leaders who did the same thing. I love that about Integris.”
Johnsen, who succeeds Chris Hammes, who was promoted in July to executive vice president and chief operating officer of Integris' network of hospital operations, sat down with The Oklahoman Monday to talk about his professional and personal life. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Can you tell us about your roots?
A: I grew up in St. Louis, with brothers five and 10 years older. I got my work ethic from my mom, who's 83 and still lives in St. Louis. Until she was 79, she worked the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift doing meticulous piecework in a factory that made thermometers. I got my sense of humor and eternal optimism from my dad, who worked as a plant manager for a chemical company. I grew up deer hunting and fishing with him. He'd grown up on a farm, so we always had a cabin somewhere that we'd head off to every weekend. My parents divorced when I was 13, and I lived with my dad, since my mom worked evenings. We lived next to a fire station, so I'd hang out with the firemen who'd watch out for me.
Q: Any school highlights?
A: I worked a lot, as a busboy and waiter, starting at age 14 at Dairy Queen. I grew up in a lower middle-class family, so if I wanted any extra money, I was going to have to work for it. I met my wife, Nancy, at age 16. We were in the same class of 1,067 students in St. Louis. But more importantly, we shared the same bus stop. Nancy is a self-trained vocalist, and I learned a little piano from my father, who played by ear. Our senior year, Nancy and I played together at piano bars and even convinced our principal to count it as work study, so we could sleep in and not take first hour. At 17, we had more discretionary income than our parents, with $1 tips covering our respective bedroom dressers.
Q: Why'd you choose health care?
A: Just weeks into my freshman year at Southwest Missouri State in Springfield, my father — who smoked and had hypertension — died suddenly, at age 52, of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. I moved in with my brother and his wife in Springfield. She was a nurse and he was going to nursing school, so it was natural for me to follow the same path. I first earned my RN diploma from St. John's and then finished my bachelor's in nursing a few years later. When I first became a nurse, I was one of only three in my class who found a full-time job, working nights in a critical care unit. It was a few years yet, before the nursing shortage kicked in.
Q: You've worked in administration since 2000. What inspired your management career?
A: I took a job as a flight nurse and eventually was made director of the air medical program. Instead of working with 20 people on a hospital floor, I largely had to rely on myself — handling advanced airway management, lung decompression, chest tubes and more. As chief flight nurse, I could see that, working in concert with the medical director, we could change one protocol — say steroidal doses for head injuries — and improve hundreds of lives. We were a progressive flight crew and kept up with literature searches on the latest medical advances. From there, I became director of emergency services at one of the regional hospitals we flew to in Bolivar, Mo., where I served 11 years, the last few as chief operating officer.
Q: Were you acquainted with Oklahoma before you moved here last month?
A: I'd worked as a hospital CEO with Mercy since 2003, and we'd have occasional meetings in Oklahoma City. But I really became familiar with the city when my daughter Kassie, a classically trained vocalist, went one year to OCU. She's completing her degree in Arkansas. Her fiance had a lot to do with that.
Q: What are your thoughts on health care reform?
A: I know it's funny for a hospital administrator to say, but we have to become not so hospital-centric and focus more on disease management. For example, a diabetic needs annual retina and foot exams to stay healthy and out of the hospital. Health reform will require everybody to play, including the patients, which may be hard work, say, losing 10 pounds. Payment methods also have to change. Versus being paid more for the more health care we provide, funding will be based more on prevention. These are exciting times in health care, if we all pull together as a country.
• Position: President, Integris Baptist Medical Center
• Birth date: Jan. 15, 1963
• Family: Nancy, married 23 years; daughter Kassie, 21, of Arkadelphia, Ark; son Sam, 17, of the home
• Education: Southwest Missouri State University; bachelor's in nursing; Southwest Baptist
• For fun: running (he's registered to run the half marathon in this spring's Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon), weight training and travel, including frequent trips to New York City where his wife and daughter take in as many performances as possible