Constable: Computer mandate means Amita doctor who's delivered thousands must stop
Hand-painted in exquisite detail and displayed in a magnificent wood-and-glass case in the Hoffman Estates home of Dr. Jeffrey B. Johnson, a miniature Lt. Col. George A. Custer and the 7th Cavalry are captured perfectly in mid-charge. But no matter how much skill or how many hours Johnson has poured into his miniature artistic hobby, or into his 50-year career as an obstetrician, neither outcome is going to change.
The 36-year-old Custer is going to be slaughtered by the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne Indians, and Johnson, 75, will be done in by a hospital administration's new computer mandate.
"I know we're not going to win," Johnson says, explaining how his refusal to take classes and get up to speed on the hospital's new computer system means he no longer can deliver babies at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates. Johnson, who delivered his first baby in 1965, delivered his last baby at that hospital last month. In between, he figures he has delivered somewhere between 14,000 and 15,000 more babies.
"I've delivered more babies than any other obstetrician in the Northwest suburbs. I'm good," Johnson says. He has received hundreds of thank-you notes and photographs of babies from happy moms, nurses and people he has worked with during his career.
"Dr. Johnson has had a long and distinguished career with Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center, and we greatly appreciate everything he has done for our patients, their families and our community," says Len Wilk, president and CEO of Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center.
But, just as with a breech birth, everybody understands that a "but" is coming.
"Our hospital recently implemented a new electronic-medical-record (EMR) platform as part of a systemwide initiative to ensure that patient records are readily accessible and shared on a common platform across all our facilities," Wilk explains. "EMR technology has been shown to reduce medical errors and increase quality and safety. Because Amita Health is committed to delivering the highest-quality care and ensuring patient safety, we require all of our practitioners to receive training in the use of our new EMR platform for ordering and documenting clinical care."
Johnson still will see women in his private practice, confirm their pregnancy and then refer them to one of his obstetrician relatives -- his son, Dr. Peter Johnson, or his younger brother Dr. Alan Johnson. The moms-to-be will be in good hands, the elder Johnson says, but his loyal patients will miss him.
"People look at me like I'm nuts when I say I go to a 70-something man, but they don't know Dr. Johnson," says Elizabeth Stamps, a 35-year-old Aurora mother of five who even came back from living in Turkey and Colorado to make sure Johnson delivered her babies. "Whether it was delivering my babies or helping me through two miscarriages, he was absolutely incredible. I can't imagine going anywhere else."
Growing up on Chicago's South Side as the second of nine children, Johnson says he became an obstetrician because of a book and his mother.
"I'm a mama's boy big time, totally. I thought she was the most magnificent person ever," says Johnson, who includes a short biography of his mother, Patricia, on his medical website. "Her example and loving support throughout my life convinced me there was no higher ambition than to serve women, especially during times of health challenges and vulnerability."
Johnson realized the difference a good doctor could make when he read "The Cry and the Covenant," a fictionalized account of 19th century Austrian-Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis, who is credited with discovering that many women died during childbirth because doctors didn't wash their hands. Inspired to be an obstetrician, Johnson worked his way through Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine.
"I drove a CTA bus freshman and sophomore year of medical school," Johnson says. He also worked as a soda jerk, serving up soft drinks and ice cream. A natural salesman, Johnson peddled "Great Books of the Western World" and sold enough $500 sets to entitle himself to buy a set for $80, but he needed the money for college.
With the Vietnam War raging, Johnson enlisted in the Air Force in 1971 and was sent to Grissom Air Force Base in rural Indiana, where he was the only obstetrician. By the time his service was completed in 1973, Johnson was the commander of the hospital.
Married with a couple of kids, Johnson moved to the suburbs to be close to his mom, who had moved to Hanover Park.
"I was the only OB west of (Illinois Route) 53, and I was busy as hell," says Johnson, who delivered babies at hospitals in Elk Grove Village and Arlington Heights. When St. Alexius opened in Hoffman Estates in 1979, Johnson helped write the bylaws and bought a house just across the golf course from his new hospital, where he also served as chairman of the OB/GYN department. He started his own OB/GYN practice six years later.
"He really went out of his way for employees. Once a year he'd have a pool party at his home for the nurses and staff," says Ed Goldberg, who was CEO and president of Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates for 18 years before his retirement in 2012. The doctor would deliver hot dogs to his staff, taking care to include whatever trimmings they desired.
"He's a kind, compassionate and great doctor," Goldberg says.
After being on-call around the clock for decades, it will take Johnson some time to adjust. "I've had a pager on every day from 1985 on," Johnson says, adding that he rarely even went to movies because deliveries were always a possibility.
"I got called out 10 minutes before the end of 'Life Is Beautiful,'" Johnson says, noting that he left before Nazis killed the main character. "My wife told me about it, and then I didn't want to see it."
He'd manage just two weeks of vacation a year -- a week at Disney World and a week out west for Custer re-enactments. His hands that painted miniature soldiers are still good in the delivery room, where his last stand apparently is over, Johnson says,
"I think it's the most important job in medicine, and I love it," Johnson says. "I just can't practice anymore at our hospital because I don't know how to use the computer efficiently."