Introducing Baptist Health Hardin: A Conversation with Dennis Johnson

Hardin Memorial Hospital, soon to become Baptist Health Hardin, will become the third-largest hospital owned by Baptist Health, rounding out the system with an impressive nine full-service hospitals in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. In this episode, we take a look back at the history of HMH and the future growth of both the hospital and the region.

In this episode of the HealthTalks NOW podcast, hosts Kerri and Kendra speak with Dennis Johnson, the President and CEO of Hardin Memorial Health.  In this unique episode, the group considers major changes to come on September 1 that will expand the Baptist Health system into Central Kentucky as Hardin Memorial Health becomes Baptist Health Hardin.  With this shift, the Baptist Health system will boast the presence of nine full-service hospitals throughout Kentucky and southern Indiana.  Dennis joins Kerri and Kendra to celebrate this change, focusing on its projected impact and the excitement surrounding it.

Before turning fully to the upcoming transition, Kerri and Kendra invite Dennis to share about his background.  While Dennis currently works in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, he is not originally from the state.  He was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida before moving to Alabama (where his family is from) for both his undergraduate and graduate school programs.  He has been married to his wife Tracy for 27 years, has three children, and has been with Baptist Health for almost 31 years.  He has worked at four different hospitals during his time with Baptist Health, and 23 of his years with the system have seen him in CEO roles.  Understandably given his background, Dennis has strong sports’ loyalties, which blend his Alabama and Kentucky commitments.

After a brief aside about sports, though, Kerri and Kendra turn the conversation toward the main topic for the episode.  Leading by quoting a statement Dennis previously made about Hardin Memorial Health being a family, Kendra asks what it means to him to be folded into the Baptist Health family, and what changes he anticipates from the transition.  Dennis centers his response on the mutual benefit that will come from the change.  Since the culture and mission of Hardin Memorial and Baptist are shared, with each rooted in faith and aiming to serve patients and staff well, Dennis anticipates that the acquisition will only strengthen the work of each.

Further, he and his hosts consider the long-standing relationship between Baptist Health and Hardin Memorial Health, which also makes the acquisition a good fit.  The two have had an established relationship for 23 years, and Hardin Memorial is loosely managed by Baptist.  There is already some sharing between Hardin Memorial and Baptist; however, Hardin Memorial still came to the conclusion that it could not remain independent, but rather needed to become part of a larger system.  Given the relationship between Hardin Memorial and Baptist Health, it made sense for Hardin Memorial to link arms with Baptist Health.  As the acquisition unfolds, Dennis anticipates that Hardin will gain needed capital as it continues to grow, and Baptist will gain a large hospital that will grow its scale and leverage.

Moving forward, Kerri wonders what Dennis finds to be the challenges and opportunities of acquisition.  Given how fast-growing and complex the Hardin Memorial Health system is, and how expansive it is across ten counties, Dennis imagines that it will be challenging to assimilate fully, integrating all policies, procedures, and practices, and transitioning to the Baptist Health computer system.  At the same time, this computer system, Epic, also offers many benefits to Hardin Memorial, and the acquisition promises to be good for Hardin’s planned expansions.

Turning to the subject of COVID-19, Kendra asks whether or not the pandemic impacted the acquisition, and if so, how.  COVID-19 is the biggest challenge of all three conversation partners’ careers, but nonetheless, the acquisition will actually be completed three months ahead of schedule!  Dennis is proud of how his team has navigated the pandemic in general and the acquisition in particular.  Another testament to the team’s strong handling of the pandemic is their quick transition to offering many telehealth services.  Joining the Baptist Health network will only add more resources to Hardin as it works to provide excellent care – both virtually and in person – to patients.

Kerri’s next question to Dennis concerns the scope of care at Hardin Memorial Health.  Kerri wonders what care looks like right now, and where there is growth potential. Hardin Memorial is invested in so many major areas of service that Dennis finds it most helpful to clarify what it does not do rather than what it does.  Hardin Memorial does not do open heart surgery at this point, but has notable programs in such areas as cardiology, orthopedics, neurology, and vascular and general medicine.  Hardin has the busiest ER in the commonwealth of Kentucky, and ranks highly on various scales of patient traffic.  Given its longs-tanding relationships with nearby Baptist Health hospitals in Louisville and Lagrange (for instance, open heart surgery patients have already been referred to Louisville), Dennis anticipates still more sharing.  Even as he is incredibly proud of Hardin’s accomplishments, most particularly its patient, employee, and physician satisfaction rates, He is excited to see Hardin develop within its new network.

The following segment of the conversation delves more deeply into the way in which Baptist Health will aid Hardin by contributing capital.  Baptist Health has pledged to infuse 235 million dollars into Hardin Memorial facilities over the next ten years, and Dennis speaks to the intended improvements and the impact he anticipates arising from this financial gain.  Dennis is excited to see more state-of-the-art facilities developed, and to continue recruiting world-class physicians to serve the people of Kentucky. 

As a side note, Dennis and his hosts also turn their attention back to the benefit of the Epic computer system, which is an electronic medical records system that makes information accessible and allows for easy streamlining and continuity of care among providers within the Baptist Health network.

Moving towards a conclusion of the conversation, Dennis shares with listeners about Elizabethtown, which is a populous area and a crossroads town within Kentucky.  Dennis anticipates that it will grow along with the overall county, which has seen growth patterns that show no signs of ending. 

To finish the episode, Kerri wants to formally induct Dennis into the Baptist Health podcast family.  She does so by subjecting him to a rapid fire round of Q&A!  Listeners will learn about Dennis’s pancake-making skill, valuation of a car over a cellphone, desire to time travel to the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, love of others, and favorite Bible verse/piece of advice.  Dennis offers a verse that doubles as advice, and that encapsulates well the heart behind both his work at Hardin and the work that he expects to continue as he links arms with Baptist Health colleagues in the days ahead: “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Key Takeaways:

[0:48] – Kerri and Kendra are joined on the phone by Dennis Johnson, President and CEO of Hardin Memorial Health.

[1:35] – The group turns to Dennis’s background, including his tenure at Hardin.

[3:35] – Kendra quotes Dennis and asks about what it means to be folded into the Baptist Health family.

[4:27] – What makes this acquisition a good fit?

[5:25] – Turning back in time, the group considers how the merger came to be.

[7:03] – The challenges and opportunities present in the acquisition process come to the fore.

[9:02] – Hardin stands to benefit from the acquisition in a number of ways, including in its transition to the Epic computer system and in the help for planned expansions.

[11:55] – How has COVID-19 impacted the merger?

[15:20] – The group turns to the specific subject of telehealth, which has seen a rise due to the pandemic.

[17:11] – While he already addressed this a bit, Dennis provides more information about Hardin Memorial’s scope of care.

[18:48] – Hardin Memorial has long-standing relationships with sister hospitals already within the Baptist network.

[19:21] – What are special highlights or high-level accomplishments from Dennis’s time at Hardin that he’s especially proud to share?

[19:54] – Baptist Health has pledged a great deal of money to be infused into the Hardin Memorial facilities in the years ahead; what impact does Dennis imagine this will have?

[21:59] – The group turns to a side note about the Epic computer system.

[22:44] – Kerri asks Dennis about Elizabethtown.

[24:57] – The group addresses the future of Elizabethtown.

[26:12] – The conversation moves toward a conclusion, but does not end until Dennis has been subjected to a round of rapid-fire Q&A!


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