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Bethel CEO training lab to become therapy animal - Daily Leader Extra : Top Stories

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Bethel CEO training lab to become therapy animal

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Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2019 4:26 pm

Archie is still learning the ropes, learning what it means to be a therapy dog. However, his trainer is experienced in training dogs and committed to preparing Archie for his new role.

"There's a lot of studies that have been done on the benefits of pet therapy," Chuck Johnson said.

Therapy animals are a calming influence, can provide comfort and can lift spirits. Johnson, the new director of Bethel Lutheran Community, wants the residents there to enjoy those benefits.

Johnson is committed to doing everything he can to enhance the quality of life for the residents whose care he oversees.

"I want it to feel as much like a home as we can make it," he said.

Currently, the eight-month-old lab spends his days at Johnson's side, which includes laying under his desk as Johnson takes care of business.

"When I am out and about, he gets up and follows me," Johnson said. "The residents have really accepted him. They really like him."

Previously, Johnson has trained hunting dogs. To train Archie, he is following guidelines provided by organizations which certify therapy dogs. He said it's important that Archie learn how to deal with special circumstances, such as being touched awkwardly by a resident who may have coordination problems.

In stepping into his new position, Johnson said his primary goal is to maintain the reputation Bethel currently enjoys in the community and to help the organization remain financially sustainable.

"I would feel like I let the community down if I failed," he said.

Johnson grew up in the DeSmet-Lake Preston area and attended school in both districts. He was influenced in his decision to enter the healthcare industry by his mother, who was a nurse.

"Everyone in the community knew my mom," he said.

She had given shots, helped put on casts, delivered babies and taught many nurses in the area. Growing up, he saw the impact a healthcare professional has on the community.

"A lot of times, they aren't doing it for the money," he said.

A press release issued when Johnson started his new job said he has a bachelor's degree in health management from the University of Minnesota-Crookston and prior healthcare experience. Most recently, he served as the administrator of Arlington Care and Rehabilitation Center.

He said he was attracted to the position in Madison for two reasons. First, the organization is faith-based. Secondly, he likes the spectrum of care provided, with everything from independent living to skilled nursing care available on one campus.

"This type of business model is more appealing to the Baby Boomers and the generation coming up," he said.

While, as an administrator, he needs to be forward-looking, as a healthcare professional, he is concerned about the individuals for whom he is responsible today. He has great respect for them.

"The generation we're taking care of right now...I really, truly believe they were the greatest generation," Johnson said.

He talked about the sacrifices they made and the way successive generations benefited, and then he shared the story of a resident he knew in a previous facility. The man had been a ball turret gunner during World War II. When Johnson knew him, he was a man of deep faith, which Johnson suspects grew out of that experience.

"If you take the time to listen and get to know them, almost everyone has had an interesting life," he said.

As an administrator, Johnson works to build a collaborative team united by one vision. He meets with his team daily.

"I share my goals and my vision of where I want Bethel to go with my team, and I ask for their input," he said.

These brief meetings -- which rarely last more than 15 minutes -- allow team members to share what is happening in their departments and to collaborate where possible.

He believes this builds a more cohesive team. He also believes in his team.

"I have some good people," Johnson said. "They do a good job...they want the same quality of life and the same home-like environment [for the residents] that I do."

In speaking about the transition he has made from his previous position, he describes it as "kind of crazy, but in a good way." Johnson noted that with the closing of Madison Care and Rehabilitation Center, the community has become even more supportive of Bethel.

"The biggest problem is I wish I had more beds to help people in the community," he said.

A decision like that could not be entered into lightly, not only because of financial considerations but also because the state has established stringent guidelines for adding beds to nursing homes. Six months into the job, Johnson doesn't even want to suggest that might be a possibility.

Rather, he is focusing on continuing to provide the quality of care that people expect of Bethel. Fortunately, this isn't a stretch for him.

"I really enjoy making a difference in someone's life," Johnson said. "I take the responsibility of caring for people very seriously."

Johnson lives in DeSmet where his wife is a nurse. They have four children and two grandchildren.

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