ROCKPORT, Maine — Wade Johnson said he was always hanging out in doctors’ offices as a child because his mother worked as a nurse.
His interest in medicine continued and last month he became the new chief executive officer of Pen Bay Healthcare, which oversees Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, Quarry Hill retirement village in Camden, Kno-Wal-Lin home health care, the Knox Center for Long Term Care in Rockland and most of the private physician offices in Knox County.
Johnson said he wanted a career where he could make a positive difference in people’s lives.
The new Knox County area health care leader was born in Wisconsin. His family moved to Texas while he was in the fifth grade, but he continues to hold some feelings for his native state as he looked to find a place in his new office for a framed photograph of famed Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi.
After high school, Johnson spent two years in South America as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He then returned to the United States and attended colleges and earned degrees in business and medical science. While working in business, he met the chief executive officer for the Cook Children’s Health Care System in Texas.
He said he was convinced that he could use his interest in medicine and his experience in business to serve health care as an administrator. Later during a conversation with a cardiologist, the doctor told him that a physician can make a difference in their patients but someone in his position could have an impact on thousands of people every day.
“That resonated with me. I had never thought of it that way before,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s most recent job was as chief executive officer of Weiser Memorial Hospital in Idaho.
When Roy Hitchings Jr. announced his decision last year to retire from Pen Bay Healthcare, the organization began a recruitment effort and Johnson was one of the people contacted.
“I was told there was a need for a transformational leader. That appealed to me,” he said. “Great things can come out of Pen Bay and being part of that is exciting.”
Pen Bay Healthcare employs about 1,500 people and 100 physicians. The annual budget of the organization, which is a member of MaineHealth, is $144 million. MaineHealth is a not-for-profit family of health care organizations that includes Maine Medical Center in Portland.
In addition to the appeal of the job, Johnson said that life in Maine also was a major attraction. He said he and his wife’s four children will be attending the Camden-Rockport schools. He said the education offered in the district is excellent.
The family also skis, hikes and spends much of their time outdoors.
“The Maine culture was important to us,” he said.
Johnson said the challenges facing Pen Bay are the same ones being faced across the country.
“There’s limited financial resources. The federal government is out of money. The state is out of money. Health care is too expensive for what you get,” he said.
The main goals will be to improve the quality of health care while decreasing costs. He acknowledged that would be easier said than done.
Health care is way behind the times in terms of information technology, he said. Hospitals and health care organizations need to learn from other industries, he said. Johnson’s work in business before he entered the health care field was in automotive parts manufacturing and in the electrical energy industry.
Sharing electronic information within the organization would be one step. He said that if a patient comes in, for example, for a radiological procedure, there should not be multiple films taken but instead one that can be examined by all health care providers.
Costs also can be reduced by focusing on prevention of illnesses, he said.
Increased outreach to the community to improve lifestyles will go a long way toward reducing chronic illnesses such as diabetes and coronary diseases, the new president said.
“There isn’t a silver bullet. There needs to be a multiprong effort,” Johnson said of getting people to change their lifestyle habits to improve their health.
The new chief executive officer said it is clear that government will be changing the way it compensates all health care organizations, including Pen Bay. Instead of state and federal governments paying hospitals for the number of tests and procedures they perform on patients, the focus will be on preventive and wellness care.
Pen Bay noted when it announced Johnson’s hiring in December that Weiser Memorial Hospital saw improvements in all its hospitalwide quality indicators, including patient safety, patient satisfaction and hospital finances.
Despite having high ratings for quality care, PBMC has scored below the state average on patient satisfaction over the past several years.