Last October, 21 villages in the Karatu district of Tanzania received more than 60,000 mosquito nets paid for by the staff and parent company of a hospital in Towson, Md. The gift was the latest project in a multifaceted social and economic development program started there six years ago by St. Joseph Medical Center president and CEO John Tolmie (MGT ’80).
Tolmie, who flew to Africa last fall with several hospital staff members to kick off the distribution of the insecticide-treated nets, says the nets significantly reduce malaria infections in the villages, “allowing children to continue going to school and kids and families to continue their farm work.”
He became interested in Tanzania in 2001, on a trip there with his parents for the opening of a handicapped-children’s school that his parents helped support. “During the visit, I was asked to assess the healthcare needs in Karatu District.” The Village Wellness Program was developed, in partnership with a Tanzanian hospital and church and a Colorado hospital.
Though the program’s primary focus is health care, Tolmie realized early on that the villagers needed help with other issues that also affected their overall wellbeing. Thus, in addition to water projects, HIV/AIDS education, health screenings, and aid for a local hospital and dispensaries, the program has assisted villagers with the purchase of farm animals and stoves and provided small business loans.
The program has invested more than $1 million in improving the health of more than 80,000 villagers, says Tolmie, who travels to Tanzania every year “to check on the various projects and help facilitate problem resolution and program development.”
Tolmie, who received an MBA and a master’s in health administration from Georgia State University, is a 27-year veteran of hospital administration. He worked at Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria, Va., and Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge, Va., before joining St. Joseph Hospital in Lancaster, Pa., in 1989. He became president and CEO of the hospital, owned by Catholic Health Initiatives, in 1995; led its merger two years later with the St. Joseph’s in nearby Reading; and served as the new CEO until his 2001 appointment at the Towson complex.
“I chose healthcare because I wanted to be in an industry that helps people,” Tolmie says. Hospital administrators he encountered as a student “always spoke very positively about the profession and the opportunity to advance your career in many different paths within healthcare.”
Competing with nine other hospitals
The 365-bed St. Joseph Medical Center has a medical staff of more than 1,000. It provides full community-hospital services, including medical, surgical, maternal and child health, and psychiatric services. The hospital’s heart, cancer, and orthopedic institutes, he says, draw patients from throughout Maryland and surrounding states. “We successfully compete in the highly competitive Baltimore market with nine other hospitals.” Over the past three fiscal years, he says, the hospital’s market share has “grown significantly.”
Of its patient promise, “Always Expert, Always Personal, Always Faith-Filled,” Tolmie says: “We strive to be expert in all aspects of patient care, put the patient at the center of the entire care process, and focus on treating the body, mind, and spirit.”
A heart hospital within the hospital
Recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s best orthopedic facilities, the hospital is also ranked among the nation’s top 100 heart hospitals. His biggest success, Tolmie says, is an initiative that invested more than $120 million in technology, facilities, and program development, including a new building opened last December that “creates a heart hospital within the hospital.”
With the worldwide economic downturn, Tolmie says healthcare, like other industries, faces tremendous challenges. “Some specific concerns are access to capital for investment in technology and facilities, nursing and physician shortages, increase in cost of delivering care, and a growing increase in bad debt and uncompensated care — the growing number of individuals losing their jobs will challenge hospitals even further by decreasing levels of reimbursement.”
For St. Joseph, with its mission of “loving service and compassionate care,” the current recession has made it harder to support “mission clinics, community outreach programs, and service to the growing number of people without health insurance or means to pay for healthcare services.”
A bridge builder
Reflecting on characteristics that have served him well, Tolmie, who received Baltimore County’s Bridge Builder Award last year for community service, cites “relationship building and active listening skills,” “high values,” “treating people with dignity and respect,” and “most important, a passion for your work and developing other leaders.”
Off duty, he enjoys spending time with family and friends. He and his wife, Lynn, have three sons, one of whom is currently a sophomore at Virginia Tech. “Both of us lived in Pritchard Hall as freshmen, an experience neither of us will ever forget.”
Tolmie also enjoys photography, gardening, and skiing. Not among his pastimes, however, he says, is watching hospital dramas on TV.