He gave a voice to the voiceless

My first thought upon opening the e-vite to Neil Johnson’s retirement party was: where did the time go?

2006 was a trying time for me. I had to have a wound surgically patched up. I had no idea about how to best approach the labyrinthine medical system that loomed overhead like a dark cloud. So I phoned Neil Johnson.

I’d known Neil for decades. I have always been proud to call him a friend. In 2006 I also knew he knows the system I dread. Back then he recommended Axis Health Care. Ultimately, they carried me into surgery through rehab and home again culminating in a successful operation and recovery. I’ve not been back.

I’m grateful every day to Neil, AXIS and advocate of all stripes. Johnson gave a voice to the voiceless for 14 years. He worked for First Choice Home Caring from 1997 through 1999, serving two years as executive director. Next it was Minnesota Homecare Association from 1999–2004 serving as member services and marketing director. Since 2004 he has been executive director at MHCA. Some advocates lead with a bullhorn, rallying the troops with zeal.

Johnson is more reserved but no less committed. “I hope I have brought a stronger voice to home care and its clientele,” he said. “We are recognized as a force for change in home care for the aging and disabled populations. We now sit at the same table with all the stakeholders. We have increased our membership and participation in volunteer teams, creating a stronger voice for those working within the industry. Likewise, I have implemented a caregiver recognition program, which annually identifies top performing caregivers as nominated by their peers, putting a face to caregivers.”

When asked to describe his managerial style he said,” Because its easy to get bogged down in the details of a problem I have always sought out people who can give me a differing or fresh perspective. . . then I look at the bigger picture, searching for the greater good, if you will. This has tended to ground me” Johnson also shared his concerns about the future of health care.

“This is a difficult and complicated question. . .I feel like the boy-crying wolf when I look at that situation. Part of it is political. Gridlock is entrenched at the capital. The word compromise is nonexistent. But we are now facing a baby boomer generation of 78 million people exploding onto the scene in the next few years. We know there is not enough money in to fund all of their needs. Raising taxes and cutting services is merely a temporary fix. We need a fundamental change in the way we do business. One way would be to provide health care to society’s lowest common denominator.”

“Right now we need volunteers to help deliver services,” said Johnson.

“What better population than Baby Boomers to join a volunteer effort and help out? So my solution would be took closely at new care transition models, new service delivery models, and new financing models to see what might be the best way to approach our issues. Money alone won’t solve the problems. I prefer to take a collaborative effort, and I dare say compromise.” Johnson retires officially June 30. His retirement party was June 1 but he is staying to make the transition smother for his successor. Not too surprising, he has a record of going the extra mile.