Dr. John Johnson Is a Man on a Mission for the Ohio Valley
MARTINS FERRY — Dr. John Johnson isn’t just a psychiatrist. He’s also an entrepreneur making investments in the Ohio Valley that he believes will have a great impact on the community for years to come.
Two of his biggest projects sit on either side of the Ohio River. He purchased the shuttered East Ohio Regional Hospital last spring and is working to reopen it this month.
But that wasn’t his first investment in the Ohio Valley.
In 2012 Johnson bought the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel headquarters in downtown Wheeling. It was recently announced that building will become a 110-unit apartment building.
“I bought (the Wheeling-Pitt building) with the long-term view that this area, in the middle of an energy revival, could have great potential,” Johnson said. “So you can consider me a long-term believer of the Ohio Valley.”
Johnson long has been interested in improving lives, especially those in Ohio. Born and raised in Kerala, a state in southern India, he received his medical degree from Magadh Medical College in Gaya, India, and completed medical residencies at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, and at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Johnson is the founder and CEO of Access Ohio, one of the state’s largest independent behavioral health centers, as well as the owner of Access Hospital, a 110-bed inpatient facility.
Johnson said he also owns and runs various “primary care centers, substance abuse and residential treatment facilities, and telemedicine and healthcare technology enterprises.”
Johnson has been a board-certified psychiatrist for more than 20 years and also has an MBA.
“I am extremely proud of being an Ohioan and believe strongly that it’s our values, work ethic, and integrity that sets our communities apart,” he said. “This is very much the case with the Ohio Valley.”
When he saw the former EORH — one of two recently closed Ohio Valley hospitals along with Ohio Valley Medical Center — Johnson felt “a calling” to revive the facility. That vision of potential also drew him to purchasing the Wheeling-Pitt building.
“As a psychiatrist, I am trained to look beneath the surface to help discover the potential of people,” he said, “rather than just how they might be at the present time and to try and help them move closer to reaching that potential.
“Changes in human behavior cannot be achieved with quick fixes,” Johnson added, “and instead require constant attention and persistence. So as with other endeavors of mine, I am in it for the long haul.”
Johnson said he considers himself a doctor first, but he has several other businesses in his portfolio including those related to precision manufacturing such as an additive technologies business (3-D printing in metal); partial ownership of real estate development and construction companies, including several property and infrastructure construction firms across the Midwest and Florida; along with more than 1.2 million square feet of commercial and residential properties.
“The drive to become an entrepreneur and investor came from a desire to be able to make a lasting impact beyond treating one patient at a time,” Johnson said.
Johnson and his wife Latha, an IT executive in financial services, have two adult children. Nithin works in investment banking and private equity in New York City and is a new father himself. Son Arun was born in December. Johnson’s daughter Neethi works in corporate strategy in Columbus.
When Johnson takes on a project, he looks for things that will provide long-term benefits for the community. That belief is what brought him to medicine in the first place, watching how difficult it was for people in his rural village in India to get proper health care and wanting to provide that access to places where it’s needed. The return of East Ohio Regional is something he believes will do that for the Ohio Valley.
Johnson wants East Ohio Regional there for the community for the long haul as well. So his vision for that hospital matches that of his numerous other facilities — something that is cost-efficient, sustainable and operated in a way that will allow it to serve the region for years to come.
“Even if it takes a multi-year approach, in order for a project to be an ongoing benefit to the community and to employ and keep employed local talent, it has to be shaped in a way that it can be financially independent in order to be long-lasting,” he said.
Johnson noted the EORH purchase deal had its challenges, but most deals do. He said having the support of the community, along with leaders at the city, state and federal levels, made a difference.
“EORH is extremely important to me because of what EORH means to Martins Ferry and the Ohio Valley,” he said, “and that is why we’ve been working so hard to reopen as fast as possible while also making sure we’ve gotten everything ready to do so as best and safely as we can to serve the community.”
Johnson’s Wheeling-Pitt Building project will be a team effort. Developer Steven Coon of Coon Restoration and Sealants Inc. of Canton, Ohio, has joined Johnson in the endeavor to, as Johnson said, “enhance this building to a new version of the magnificent glory it had in the past.
Wheeling city officials also are helping with the project. A new parking facility also is planned that will serve the future tenants of that building, and the entire project will be an investment of around $31 million.
Johnson is around the Ohio Valley so often, he said he feels like a resident. He plans on buying a home in the area as well. He already feels like the people of the region — many of whom have been very supportive of his endeavors in both Martins Ferry and Wheeling — are his neighbors.
“The positive encouragement and blessings they have given motivates me to continue to try and support the growth and flourishing of the whole community,” Johnson said. “My personal mission is not only to improve the healthcare for the people we serve, but I want to play an active role in improving the overall health, wellness, productivity and happiness of the entire community.”