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Dawn Johnson is an accomplished executive with more than 25 years of healthcare leadership, management, and clinical experience. Dawn joined the MetroHartford Alliance (MHA) as Executive Director of the Connecticut Health Council (CHC) in June 2021. MHA Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Dawn to learn more about why she is well-suited for the role and what she brings to the table.

NAN PRICE: Why did you take this role? What drew you to this position?

DAWN JOHNSON: When I learned about the CHC opportunity, I was intrigued. Considering that my background includes being a clinician, a policy maker, an implementer, and cultivating business, this role is a good fit. I’ve done a lot of business development with organizations both public and private to improve the health of individuals and communities.

I found the opportunity to marry the business side of health and healthcare and attach it to a region’s success really interesting. The role with the CHC allows me to bring together key aspects of health that I’ve learned during my 20-plus years in the industry. Through the CHC initiative, I can broaden the discussion around health and healthcare to include economic development, innovation, and disruptive technology, while being continually mindful of the community, socioeconomic, and environmental factors impacting business growth in the region.

NAN: As you’re stepping into this role, what impact are you hoping to make in Connecticut?

DAWN: Connecticut has some of the most dynamic and innovative healthcare systems and professionals in the nation and Hartford is the “Insurance Capital of the World.” These factors give the state a competitive advantage over most places. However, I believe things can still be done to not only improve the state’s overall health policy, but to increase quality and access to healthcare and how and who it’s being delivered to. I also believe there is the space and opportunity to improve communication between our corporate, community, education, and government decision makers to generate some really innovative things within the state.

Through the platform the MHA has created in forming the CHC, we can break down the barriers that have traditionally prevented the advocate, small business, academic, and corporate community from developing and implementing policy efforts that are efficient, inclusive, and responsive to the “kitchen table choices” people have to make every day.

I want the CHC to break down these silos to create an inclusive space that not only fosters innovation and inclusion but also creates the opportunity and platform for the responsible management that companies need to invest, operate, and grow.

It’s always been important to me to problem solve, share my voice, and address the obvious. What’s obvious to me is that we have some of the finest health systems, institutions of higher learning, clinicians, administrators, advocates, researchers, innovators, foundations, disruptors, and community representatives in the state. My opportunity is to cull all those resources to inform and support improving outcomes of health in the state. I’d like to diminish the barriers and silos that exist in the health ecosystem and support the region’s growth and service to the community.

The CHC is located in Connecticut’s capital city—strong capital cities allow for growth across the state. From being in the middle of policy at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), I have an understanding about how policy influences innovation, business operations, and health outcomes. Connecticut, for such a small state in geographic size, has assets we should utilize for the benefit of the community.

Regulators, politicians, insurers, decision makers, foundations, advocates, and influencers are all located in the Hartford Region. Without a strong capital city, the state’s economic development, workforce development, and innovation may not move the way it should move. So, I wanted to have a seat at the table in the room where the decision makers are.

I think success in this role will be based on three things. First my ability to relate to empathize with people about how the system does and doesn’t currently work for them. Next it will be about my ability to communicate clearly so people can understand and trust the messages I’m sharing with them. Last, and maybe most importantly, I’ll need to be bold, direct, and relatively uncompromising in the pursuit of my goals.

NAN: In what ways do you see Connecticut excelling in healthcare? Where are there challenges and how can we best address those challenges?

DAWN: Connecticut excels in healthcare due to the amalgam of innovation and education. Our state has higher learning institutions that focus on research and research centers and innovation centers within them. Connecticut has biomedical technology that’s blooming.

We also have workforce development. And, increasing and improving health and wellness is workforce development.

And then, of course, Connecticut has insurers and care delivery systems—not just hospitals, but systems throughout the state that encompass the full continuum of care, inpatient and ambulatory, from behavioral to physical to long-term care, across a person’s lifespan.

I think Connecticut has the opportunity to align with all the organizations: healthcare institutions, vendors, contributors, and supporters of health delivery—not just healthcare delivery—to push this region forward. When we compare ourselves to other regions or states, I don’t know that we’re showing the bounty of all we have to offer.

Access is another big issue where I think Connecticut has an opportunity to deliver. And then advocacy. And when I say “advocacy,” it’s not just patient advocacy; it’s advocating for businesses, the workforce, and vulnerable populations. For healthcare and health to work, it has to be aligned with the consumers of health, and those consumers could be another business or anyone in the ecosystem.

Also, when I say “advocacy,” it’s pushing for good Medicaid policy and good innovative equitable health policy and ensuring our ecosystem is also supporting businesses that want to come to the area—letting them know how much we have to offer from great places to live to access to quality education, so they can enjoy their lives here in Connecticut. So, as straightforward as the CHC can be, it actually has the opportunity to cover more ground if chooses to, which can help improve healthcare in Connecticut overall.