Being the President/CEO of a health network means being part business leader and part politician, and it requires a precise dose of diplomacy, advocacy, business management and financial sense. It is a challenging, rewarding, tireless role, and one that David H. “Dave” Dunkle ’94, M.D., is humbled and honored to have.
The Johnson Memorial Health (JMH) Board of Trustees announced his appointment as President/CEO of the Franklin, Indiana-based health network in May 2019. Dunkle, a longtime family physician with JMH had been acting as interim CEO the previous three months. Prior to that, his patients and peers had named him JMH’s “2018 Physician of the Year.”
Over the last two years, Dunkle has been heavily involved in the planning and construction of JMH’s new emergency department and outpatient-services building, and he continues to serve as vice president for medical affairs, a role he had prior to taking the President/CEO reins. Additionally, he is vice president of the JMH Foundation, which helps provide scholarships for future health care professionals and support local access to mental health care services, among other outreach.
While keeping a finger on the pulse of JMH operations, Dunkle also engages frequently with external constituents. From speaking at chamber of commerce luncheons and attending county economic development discussions, to meeting with Franklin city leaders such as the mayor, community schools superintendent and Franklin College president throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Dunkle ensures JMH fulfills its promise of truly being part of the community, to help achieve great health outcomes.
One example is the forthcoming JMH Athletics Annex at Franklin College, made possible by a $1 million commitment this spring. The indoor multiuse annex will accommodate a variety of athletic practices to support year-round conditioning, skills development and overall physical health. An investment in student health is, ultimately, an investment in the Franklin community since many students work and volunteer at local businesses, and choose to make the community their permanent residence upon graduation. Such was the case for Dunkle, who grew up in in West Lafayette, Indiana, and came to Franklin for college.
Dunkle was a standout Grizzlies’ basketball player and is distinguished as the College’s first Academic All-American and NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipient. He went on to graduate from Indiana University School of Medicine and completed his residency at St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis. Dunkle then returned to Franklin to practice medicine and reengage with his alma mater. He subsequently served for 16 years as the College Health Center’s visiting physician and traveled with the men’s basketball team for some time as well. Recognizing his passion for Franklin College and sound leadership in business and the community, the College Board of Trustees recently welcomed Dunkle as a new member. Here, we share a glimpse of Dunkle’s career insights, college memories and prescription for success.
What motivated you to move from practicing medicine full time into health care administration?
“It was a very difficult decision because I had worked really hard to build a successful practice and take care of multiple generations of families over the years, but I discovered administration was my passion. I realized that in administration I could do even more to affect health outcomes in my community as a whole than I was able to as a physician caring for 4,000 to 5,000 patients.
“When I was first named interim CEO, I still saw patients a few days a week. After I became CEO full time, I transitioned to seeing patients one day a week. In addition to providing patient care, I looked at the visits as an opportunity to be a ‘secret shopper.’ I asked patients about their experiences going through registration, getting lab work done and visiting with specialists. It was a great way for me to learn more about JMH services from a patient’s perspective.
“After COVID-19 hit, I could no longer see patients because it just became too much. I needed to focus my full efforts on being CEO. As I’ve continued in this role, listening is still very important to my job. I think listening — to patients, physicians, staff, directors, community partners and other constituents — has helped me do well in a lot of situations when rash responses would have been the wrong responses.”
What have you learned from listening to constituents?
“That health care is important to everyone. Everyone wants good medical outcomes, and we all share concerns about accessibility and affordability. As JMH works to find that balance, we also must assess which new services and providers are needed in the community, and how to continuously try improving upon what we already do very well. We take great pride in JMH being the only full-service hospital in Johnson County and the largest employer in Franklin, and we recognize the responsibility that brings.”
What allowed you to start really learning the business of health care?
“For one, a mentor. I’m very grateful to Dr. Michael Fletcher, vice president and chief medical officer of Hancock Health (Greenfield, Indiana). He took me under his wing and encouraged my involvement in the American Association for Physician Leadership. The Association offers professional development programs and continuing education courses, and they helped grow my excitement about opportunities in medical leadership.
“Another factor was earning my MBA. The Association has a relationship with the University of Massachusetts’ MBA program, which enabled me to do prerequisite Continuing Medical Education work and earn my degree online, in just under four years. On top of a great curriculum, the program provided a great space for peer interaction. Since about 60% of people in the MBA program were physicians I had the chance to exchange ideas with people working all across the country in a variety of health care settings.”
What has been the greatest challenge facing JMH in response to COVID-19?
“The greatest challenge throughout all of this continues to be staffing. We have a national shortage of nurses and respiratory therapists, and a lot of health care workers have left the field because of COVID-19. As other people sheltered and worked from home during the early part of the pandemic, health care workers didn’t have that opportunity. Working throughout the pandemic has been emotionally draining on them and their families; this hasn’t been a punch the time clock and leave it at work scenario.
“As I’ve said publicly before, the number of physical beds at JMH is not our greatest limitation; it’s having enough people to staff the beds. There are a lot of important health care team members who go unnoticed until there’s no one to fill their roles . . . ultrasound technicians, phlebotomists, environmental services staff, to name a few. Staffing is a current challenge that’s not just systemwide or statewide, it’s nationwide. Also, factor in that there’s a lot of competition for startups, and the hiring and orientation processes require significant time, and you get a sense of what health care facilities are facing.”
Being a CEO in a smallish community means living in a fish bowl. How do you deal with the scrutiny?
“I have a lot of faith in our organization, in the staff and volunteers and in our product. They are what give me confidence in representing JMH.
“I’m also very proud of our awards for patient safety and outcomes, and of the work we continue to do in looking for different avenues to provide quality, affordable health care. I’m very enthusiastic about the future, and the services we provide. And I’m very confident we will continue to improve health care in Johnson County.”
What do you stand for as a leader?
“Accountability, compassion, teamwork and transparency are all important to me as a leader, and an important part of our JMH culture and values. I also practice being quick to listen and slow to speak.”
What has been a moment of success or excitement for you as a leader?
“A couple really stand out. One was when (Indiana) Gov. Eric Holcomb read a letter at one of his televised press conferences from a family with a father who received great care at JMH during the height of the pandemic. I could not have been more proud. So many people were involved in that man’s care; I can’t put into words how proud I was.
“Another point of pride was when JMH hosted a group of suburban hospital leaders. One of them said, ‘I can’t believe what you’ve done with this place.’ I thought he was referring to the new construction, but he went on to say that on his walk over to the conference room, five people with smiling faces stopped and asked if he needed help. We’ve worked so hard as an organization to embrace a patient-first culture over the last two years that it was extremely rewarding to have a fellow CEO recognize it.”
Who were your College mentors?
“My greatest mentor was Coach Kerry Prather (now Franklin College President, but then head men’s basketball coach). He taught me lessons about leadership and life that were valuable beyond the basketball arena, and I know he’s been an outstanding influence on many other young men he coached.
“I’m also grateful for Drs. Steve Browder and Sam Rhodes (now biology professors emeriti). They had a passion for teaching life sciences, and were always so encouraging of my career pursuit in medicine.”
How have you stayed engaged with the College since graduating?
“I was a physician for the Student Health Center, and I used to travel with the men’s basketball team. I also hosted several students for observational and clinical experiences in my family medical practice, and participated on panel discussions for pre-professional students. I’ve talked to student-athletes about the dangers of alcohol, and more recently been a resource on COVID-19 safety and mitigation. And I’m very proud to be a longtime donor to the College and member of the Goaltenders Club.”
What do you hope to contribute to the College as a trustee?
“I look forward to helping the College fulfill its mission, and I’m ready to help recruit top student talent, become acquainted with more of the faculty and get involved in strategy. I’d like to see the College keep moving forward in establishing itself as a great leader among peers in education. I’d also like to see more involvement from my fellow alumni, not only financially but with their time.”
Dunkle resides in the Center Grove area with his spouse, Amy, and their two children, Evan and Reese. His brother, Rick Dunkle ’01, also attended Franklin.
Story by Amy (Kean) VerSteeg ’96, Editor, Franklin College Magazine
POSTED Aug 27, 2021