AT THE HELM
By MIKE REUTHER
Steven P. Johnson has been at the helm of Susquehanna Health during some of its most challenging years.
Today, following recent progress that brought major transformation to its three Lycoming County campuses, the health system is positioned for the future.
Johnson isn’t one to take credit for many of the strides that have been made toward improvement of patient care.
But apparently, some people have taken notice of what’s happening locally under his leadership.
Johnson was recently named chairman of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) board and is excited about the opportunities the position will afford him.
“This is a time in my career when I can give back,” he said.
HAP is an advocacy group that assists hospitals responding to changes in health care while working to enact policy on behalf of patients.
Johnson said he’s always been interested in such issues and is excited about his new role.
“Steve brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the board of directors as the leader of the Susquehanna Health System,” said Julie Kissinger, vice president of communications and public affairs. “He previously served as chair of HAP’s Quality and Care Management Committee, and is passionate about the importance of continually improving the delivery of safe, quality health care through strong executive leadership, adoption of best practice models and patient and family engagement. Steve has been an active part of HAP’s advocacy efforts at the state and federal level, engaging with legislative leaders and the executive branch on numerous issues of importance to hospitals and health systems, and their patients and communities.”
Johnson served as chairman-elect for HAP for the past two years, a position officials say helped prepare him for the position of chairman, and has been involved in the development of HAP’s new strategic plan.
Now, with an even more prominent role, he feels he will continue to learn from the organization’s “bright and capable” people about ways to improve health care across the state and at Susquehanna Health.
Johnson, who formerly served as Susquehanna’s chief operating officer, can quite readily recall the evolution of the local health care scene over the past few decades.
One of the biggest events occurred in 1994 with the formation of the health system through the alliance of Williamsport, Divine and Muncy Valley hospitals.
At the time, each of the health institutions operated as separate entities.
The alliance, he feels, has proven to be beneficial.
At the time, it was felt health care could be delivered more efficiently by having area hospitals, including two in the same community, operating under a single organization.
In 2005, when Johnson took the reins as president, Susquehanna was well established and positioned for the many changes that were taking place all across health care.
For the next seven years, he led the health system toward kick-off and completion of Project 2012, a system-wide buildings renovation and modernization project.
Williamsport Regional Medical Center, especially, underwent major construction and expansion, with the campus and even the surrounding neighborhood assuming a new look.
“We have spent over $350 million on facility improvements and modernization,” he said.
And though Project 2012 is completed, the changes continue.
Later this year, the new YMCA, under a lease agreement with the health system, will open its doors across Louisa Street from the medical center.
Improving patient care played a vital part in the project, but better facilities also helped attract and retain medical staff, Johnson noted.
He also was there for the agreement that merged Laurel Health System in neighboring Tioga County into Susquehanna Health.
Other health care institutions also had eyed some type of operating agreement with Laurel but were rejected.
“They chose us because of our mission and values,” he said.
Through it all, he points to the unwaving devotion to the faith-based, physician led and professionally managed mission under which the health system operates.
The focus, he said, is offering quality health care.
At the same time, health system officials are more than cognizant of keeping down costs.
In the past two years, the health system has cuts millions of dollars of waste.
Johnson points to eliminating various supply costs, relying on more lean production techniques, and using less energy to operate plant facilities.
An HAP analysis forecasts that the health system’s “outstanding clinical quality” at Williamsport Regional Medical Center places it in the top 10 percent of all hospitals in the nation under the new Value-Based Purchasing program.
“Every health care provider in the nation has to reduce costs to create better value,” he said.
Overall, Johnson credited solid teamwork and high employee morale for helping steer the health system toward success.
Still, challenges remain.
As the large baby boomer population continues to age, Susquehanna can be expected to see increasing numbers of patients in need of care.
“It’s doing best for our patients no matter what,” he said.
He referred to some of the health system’s most recent achievements.
Williamsport Regional Medical Center was named in 2012-13 as One of America’s Best 100 Hospitals for orthopedic surgery and spine surgery and the second highest rated hospital in the state and one of the top 25 in the nation for surgical safety and quality.
The health system has earned numerous other awards through the years for patient care including in the areas of orthopedic, cardiac, critical care, women’s health, and other specializations.