New president eager to carry on mission at St. Mary’s

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Bryan Johnson says he considered becoming a doctor. He’d been accepted to two medical schools, in fact. In retrospect, Johnson says he’s happy he pursued instead his interest in health care administration.

It was a decision that led to a 20-year career in a succession of positions and his selection as the new president of St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction.

While St. Mary’s is no exception among health care providers in facing a changing policy environment, Johnson says he’s eager to begin his new role in what he sees as the unchanging mission at the hospital, and that’s caring for patients. “I’m excited. I’m really excited.”

Johnson accepted the position effective Aug. 9 after serving for nearly two months as interim president at St. Mary’s and for three years before that as chief operating officer. He succeeds Dr. Brian Davidson, who stepped down to return with his family to Denver after working three years as president.

Prior to joining St. Mary’s, Johnson worked in a series of roles with  Intermountain Healthcare, which operates  22 hospitals in Utah. He served as chief executive officer of the Orthopedic Speciality Hospital in Salt Lake City and Alta View Hospital in Sandy.

Before that, Johnson worked for the Sentara Healthcare in various positions in Virginia.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and a master’s of health administration degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in Richmond.

Johnson says health care is a family business of sorts. He says his father worked as a hospital administrator and his younger brother works as a hospital executive.

Johnson says he considered becoming a doctor, but decided to work in health care in another capacity. “I enjoy the business side a lot more.”

At St. Mary’s, Johnson says his role has changed from what was an inward focus to an outward focus. As chief operating officer, Johnson says he was responsible for internal operations and processes, including financial performance, physician contracting and service lines. As president, Johnson says he expects to work more with people and organizations outside the hospital on regional health care efforts.

Inside or outside St. Mary’s, Johnson says he prefers an informal, collaborative management style. “It’s part of a team. In health care, there are very few things we do by ourselves.”

Johnson says he plans to pursue four priorities.

The first priority, he says, is to maintain the quality of health care. St. Mary’s ranked sixth in Colorado in a ranking of the best regional hospitals published by U.S. News & World Report. St. Mary’s also received an A for patient safety in the latest assessment from the Leapfrog Group, a health care industry watchdog group. St. Mary’s has earned the top grade in the last four of the twice-yearly assessments.

The second priority, Johnson says, is to lower costs. That will include efforts to not only reduce waste in operations and processes, but also standardize protocols.

The third priority, he says, is to continually improve the patient experience at St. Mary’s.

And the fourth priority, he says, is to develop and strengthen partnerships with other health care providers in the region. St. Mary’s joined Family Health West in Fruita on a collaborative effort to treat transitional patients. SCL Health, which operates St. Mary’s, entered into a care affiliate agreement with Memorial Regional Health in Craig.

The key to success in pursuing the priorities, Johnson says, is engaging front-line health care providers in the process. It’s important, too, that decisions about health care services are based on good data and the decision-makers remain open to honest feedback.

Health care organizations face a changing policy environment to address what Johnson sees as a paradox of rising costs and worsening outcomes. But it’s possible, he says, to lower costs and still do the right things for patients.

St. Mary’s Medical Center is unique, he says, in operating a large and sophisticated health care facility in a smaller community. That means people in the Grand Valley and Western Colorado can receive advanced care without having to travel to Denver or Salt Lake City.

The opportunity to work at a medical center like St. Mary’s while living in a smaller community like Grand Junction remains an attraction, Johnson says. “It kind of checks all the boxes for me.”

It’s enough to make him happy he didn’t become a doctor.