Family Advisory Network feature: Mark Johnson

  • Published June 30, 2021
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Our Family Advisory Network (FAN) feature this month focuses on Mark Johnson, MPA, the FAN member from Alaska, who represents the Pacific Region EMSC Partnership (PREP).

Johnson has served as Alaska’s FAN for about 15 years, after retiring from state service, and currently chairs the state Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC) Advisory Committee. He has a deep passion for mental and behavioral health and has worked for nearly eight years to help improve crisis stabilization services for his community. The state of Alaska has recently started promoting these services in other communities.

New approaches to mental and behavioral health

His work with mental and behavioral health services began in Juneau, a community of 32,000 people where 16% of the population identifies as indigenous Alaskans. In the past several years, Johnson has worked with his local hospital system, as a board member, to promote the development of a behavioral health crisis stabilization program that serves all ages in a short-term in-patient and an outpatient setting. Although a new eight-bed facility is expected to be open in late summer or fall 2022, he is grateful that this service was in place during the COVID pandemic, as numbers of mental and behavioral health cases increased drastically. While the new facility is being built, Bartlett Regional Hospital has created a safe room in the emergency department and another safe room in the medical-surgical department to provide crisis stabilization treatment for kids and adults. In May 2021, 22 children/adolescents were treated by the Bartlett crisis stabilization service and the Crisis Intervention Services Community-Based Team served 13 families with short-term intensive crisis supports.

Once patients are discharged from the crisis stabilization program, follow-up teams help the patients and families connect to appropriate community resources. Previously, children and adolescents with serious mental and behavioral health issues were sent to Anchorage (about 600 miles northwest of Juneau) or to out-of-state treatment facilities (Seattle is over 900 air miles southeast of Juneau). This approach caused complications and was expensive. When patients returned home, there were limited follow-up services available.

Four decades of improving care

In addition to his work in mental and behavioral health, Johnson is also proud of the work he has done throughout his career. As state EMS Chief, starting in 1979, he helped Alaska develop its first state EMS regulations and subsequent updates and helped expand training and funding for the statewide EMS system. Since getting the first EMSC grant in the late 1980s, he and his staff helped educate EMS providers and hospital staff about pediatric best practices, including those from the current National Pediatric Readiness Project. He also has lobbied and testified to the legislature on important EMS, trauma care, and pediatric health legislation.

Starting in the 1990s, Johnson helped implement and expand the “Kids Don’t Float” drowning prevention program, which has become a successful statewide program in over 650 locations with partners including the U.S. Coast Guard, EMS and fire agencies, Alaska Native Health Corporations, and many others.

Johnson also has been involved with a wide range of other injury prevention programs and strategies. Johnson’s advice to new FANs is: “Develop a long-term family-oriented vision and goals, consistent with the priorities of the state EMS for Children program, and patiently look for opportunities because change usually does not happen overnight.”

“We are so proud of Mark’s tireless championing of pediatric health initiatives,” says Jennifer Talley, project manager for the FAN. “We’re are honored to have him as one of our FAN members.”

To learn more about FAN, visit its webpage.