An Interview with Healthicity's First Compliance Officer of the Year

At Healthicity, we believe in recognizing the exceptional contributions of compliance professionals who go above and beyond to ensure that their organizations uphold the highest standards of integrity and ethics. This year, we are thrilled to feature our first-ever Compliance Officer of the Year Award recipient, Johanna Brown, Director of Compliance at Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. 

In a recent episode of our Compliance Conversations podcast, host CJ Wolf sat down with Johanna to discuss her remarkable journey in compliance, her leadership approach, and the qualities that make her an outstanding compliance officer. Here, we share some highlights from their insightful conversation. 

Johanna’s path to becoming a compliance officer is as unique as it is inspiring. With a background in broadcast journalism and a degree in communications, she never anticipated a career in compliance. However, an unexpected opportunity as a HIPAA training specialist sparked her interest in the field. Over the years, Johanna’s dedication and expertise have propelled her to her current role, where she has made significant contributions to Kootenai Health. 

Listen Now >>

Leadership and Teamwork: The Cornerstones of Success 

One of the key themes of Johanna’s interview was the importance of leadership and teamwork in achieving compliance excellence. She emphasized the value of open communication, trust, and autonomy in managing her team. Johanna’s leadership style focuses on empowering her team members, encouraging their professional growth, and fostering a supportive work environment. 

The Art of Staying Calm Under Pressure 

In the high-stakes world of compliance, maintaining composure is essential. Johanna highlighted the importance of keeping a cool head during heated discussions and stressful situations. Her ability to remain calm and reflective has earned her the respect and admiration of her colleagues. 

Recognizing Excellence 

During the podcast, CJ Wolf shared some of the glowing recommendations that led to Johanna’s selection as Compliance Officer of the Year. Colleagues praised her dedication, leadership, and the positive impact she has had on their organization. These heartfelt comments underscored the profound respect and gratitude Johanna’s team feels for her. 

Giving Back to the Community 

As part of the Compliance Officer of the Year award, Healthicity made a donation to the United Way of North Idaho in Johanna’s name. Johanna, who serves as the board president for the organization, expressed her gratitude for this gesture and highlighted the importance of giving back to the community. 

Looking Ahead 

As we celebrate Johanna’s achievements, we also look forward to the future of compliance. Johanna’s story is a testament to the power of dedication, leadership, and teamwork in navigating the complexities of the compliance landscape. Her insights and experiences provide valuable lessons for all of us in the compliance community. 

We invite you to listen to the full podcast episode to gain more insights from Johanna’s journey and to be inspired by her story of excellence in compliance. 



Episode Transcript

CJ: Welcome everybody to another episode of Compliance Conversations. I am CJ Wolf for Healthicity, and today's episode is a little unique because we have a unique award that Healthicity gave out and I'll describe that in a moment. It was our first ever compliance officer of the year award and so we have the recipient of that award. Johanna Brown is with us. Johanna, welcome to the podcast.  

Johanna: Hi, thank you! Thanks for having me! 

CJ: Absolutely! And congratulations to you! We're going to talk a little bit about some of the glowing recommendations we received about you, but congratulations!  

Johanna: Yes, thank you! It's an honor and nice to be recognized.  

CJ: Absolutely! So, and we appreciate your time and your expertise. Just to give everyone a little bit of background, I think it was back in December, kind of towards the end of December that we announced our winner, Johanna, is our first ever Science Officer of the Year award. Months prior to that, we had publicized that that we were taking nominations we received, I think over a hundred submissions and so many qualified wonderful people. So first off, we just like to thank everybody for participating, you know, we're just trying to create a community of compliance and sharing and learning together. And so, we know there's lots of people who are worthy of this of this type of award. But so, thank you all for participating. And I think we're going to probably try it again next year, or this calendar year, I should say. 

Johanna, before we get into more depth on this award, let me just give you an opportunity to just introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about yourself, maybe how you got to compliance and a little bit of background, so we can learn more about you.  

Johanna: Yeah, no problem. Johanna Brown, I'm the compliance director at a health system, Kootenay Health in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. So, Coeur d'Alene, just to give some geographic location, Coeur d'Alene is in the skinny part of the state. So North Idaho and our kind of major metropolitan areas, we're about a half hour east of Spokane, Washington, so that's kind of our main hub, but in terms of me being the compliance director here, I've been in my role here for, I'm approaching 10 years and prior to that I worked for a health system in Seattle, Washington and that's actually where I'm from and I was born and raised in Seattle. But, you know, thrilled to work for a community hospital and an independent hospital. And I have been, yeah, I've been in compliance for a little over 20 years and I would say my background is primarily HIPAA, privacy and security, but in my role that I've had this past nine and half years, I run the whole gamut of corporate compliance, so not just...  

CJ: And isn't that's how it is, isn't it? Right, we all...  

Johanna: Yep, yeah!  

CJ: That's exciting! Appreciate that background. You know, none of us, I always joke with guests that, you know, probably none of us grew up thinking; "When I grew up, I want to be a compliance officer!" right? It's I want to be a fireman or something. So, did you start off in a different kind of field in healthcare, in auditing and finance like what's your training or education in?  

Johanna: Yeah! So, you know, I kind of get that question a lot because a lot of people are sort of intrigued of like, "What is compliance, what do you do?"  

CJ: Exactly! 

Johanna: And so, I, you know, it's just funny, I kind of fell into it. So, I actually have a communications degree, I have a broadcast journalism degree. So, when I was younger and I graduated from college, I wanted to be a sports reporter, and I quickly found that I, you know, that just wasn't the field for me. So, I spent a couple of years just figuring things out, and I landed a job at health system in in Seattle and it was just a friend who had gotten a promotion and they needed to fill his position pretty quickly and his boss asked him if there was anybody, he knew that could, you know, do this job and he said; "Well, you know, I actually, my friend Johanna, she could totally do this." And it was just it was a HIPAA training specialist. I mean, I frankly didn't even know what HIPAA stood for, I didn't know anything about compliance. So, I thought I was going to work for an insurance plan, I mean I kind of just fell into it and then, I guess the rest is history.  

CJ: Yeah, that's such a unique story, but it's also somewhat common in that we kind of all come to this from different backgrounds. You know, I come from a clinical background. I know people come from finance or from legal and, but we all kind of end up in this compliance world where it takes kind of some soft skills as well as knowing kind of content and the fact that you mentioned communications, I mean most of our job is communicating, isn't it? Like that's such a huge part of it, I shouldn't say most of our job, but it's such a huge part of it cause people don't even know what compliance is half the time.  

Johanna: Yeah, absolutely! And I mean, I think it. You know, in being a compliance professional, it takes a certain personality, right? It's like I talked to people about just having kind of the composure of like keeping your cool when like things kind of get heated, because I think we're in a lot of heated discussions a lot of the time and I, you know, I don't know about you, but like a lot of times like I might be sort of like the tiebreaker and some like, months long of battle and it's like I'm brought in and, you know, instead of getting escalated myself, you know, you just have to be sort of reflective and, you know, an active listener and, you know, ask questions, but really, really keep your cool when things are on fire. 

CJ: Yes, that is such a great point, and that's a skill that some people are capable of learning. For some people it comes a little bit more natural and then some might not ever be able to learn it. I do believe that most skills can be taught with enough practice and dedication, just in talking to you these few minutes I can already tell you have a very calming presence, and that I think is a real asset in healthcare, in compliance for the reasons, you just said, right? Because it's often there's kind of debating sides on issues and people are kind of like; "What do you mean? We've been doing this for years, you want us to change, or we have to do this and that's and that." So, I really appreciate that demeanor that you have.  

Johanna: Yeah! I really pride myself on being balanced, so it's like, I think that I'm not too soft, but I'm not too hard, you know? It's like I really have that balance in certain situations and I think that's important because if, you know, I think a lot of times we all know that when you get some initial report made to compliance, a lot of times like people are kind of like, panicked or, you know, frenzy they think they did something wrong and they're just; "Oh my gosh, you know, like, something's happening, that it's on fire." And if I have that dramatic reaction back and what it's, you know, it would really kind of scare them.  

CJ: Exactly! 

Johanna: And so, I think like having sort of that cool demeanor of just being like; "Ok, you know, tell me more. Let's get into this. I'm sure everything's going to be okay." Is providing that reassurance.  

CJ: Yeah, that's really important. And you know, and as we all know in compliance, a lot of things that are reported, as you look into them and investigate them, they're not really what they seem, right? So, you can have people that are observing something, and you welcome and you want to create a culture where people are willing to speak up about anything that they're unsure about or uncomfortable about. But a person might speak up, and it might only have a 10% of the view and they don't know that the other 90% is kind of not necessarily hidden, but it's not apparent to the, but oh, we actually did work through this, and this is actually okay, but sometimes the 10% they see they really have identified an issue. So, you need to be thoughtful like you just described.  

Johanna: Yeah, exactly!  

CJ: Well, let me share if there's a way to make somebody blush on a podcast where it's just audio only. I don't know if we can do that. But I want to share some of the beautiful comments that were shared with us during this nomination process. And I don't know who all of these folks are. I won't name names, but I'm assuming these are folks that work with you on a regular basis. So, here's some of them; "Johanna is an exceptional compliance officer. And always puts in the time to thoroughly understand and think through situations as they arise." We just talked about that, "She is an invaluable asset to our health system and a wonderful individual to work with." That's beautiful. Couple more, I'm just going to read a couple more. 

Johanna: You're right, I am blushing!  

CJ: You are blushing. Okay, good. So, there you go. That's how we tell on an audio-only podcast. She is blushing. "Johanna has been a driving force behind our organization's reputation for excellence and compliance, for dedication, knowledge, and leadership in this critical area have not only protected our organization from potential risks, but have also positioned us as a leader in compliance practices within our industry. I have every confidence that Johanna is deserving of the Compliance Excellence Award. Her contributions have been instrumental in maintaining the highest standards of compliance, and I am certain that she will continue to lead us to even greater heights in this area."  

I'm going to read one more and then I'd like to hear your thoughts on how this makes you feel. The next one; "Johanna, demonstrates exemplary competence in the field of compliance. Her dedication has helped to foster a culture of compliance within our organization. She is unwavering in her commitment to compliance and is unafraid to tackle any compliance issue that comes her way. Johanna inspires our team daily and encourages us to learn and grow as she knows that our growth as individuals adds to the success of our organization as a whole. I count myself lucky to be a part of her team."  

Thoughts! What do you think about that, when you hear that?  

Johanna: Wow! Yeah! Well, as we had discussed prior, you know this is the first time I have heard these comments. So, I am blushing and I'm very humbled, you know, to know that these are some of my team members that report to me. It feels good to be recognized in this way because I think that a lot of the things that I do probably go either unnoticed or unrecognized, compliance a lot of times is, you know, kind of flies on the radar. And so, you know, compliance professionals aren't necessarily recognized so publicly because they just aren't.  

CJ: Right! That's right.  

Johanna:  And so yeah, to be recognized like this is really, you know, such an honor and it makes me feel good. And you know I will say just my success in this field or what I feel as being successful, I'm only as successful as the people that are in my corner and build me up. So, having these nominations and these, you know, very nice comments. I just know that I wouldn't be here without them helping me every day.  

CJ: Thank you for saying that and let's talk some more about that. We're going to take a quick break though before we talk about some of these things some more. So, stay with us folks, we'll be right back!  

Welcome back, everybody from our break, we're talking to Johanna Brown, who is our Health Institute's first-ever compliance Officer of the Year Award winner. And we were talking about some of the comments that were submitted and Johanna you said, you know, it really takes a team and success as a team and that's just so true in compliance. It's true in everything in life, I think, but especially in compliance and so, if you don't mind share how, you know, just as a manager or as a leader, how do you instill that teamwork and that team culture in the compliance department? What do you do? And I know there may be different ways for different leaders, right? To kind of foster this culture, but how do you do it? What's your secret?  

Johanna: I don't know if it's a secret, but I can probably tell you what works for me, but yeah, you know, I would say that I think open communication and constant communication. So, for me, I manage my team, so I have six people that report up to me. And so, what I do is just meet with them often. So, I make sure that we have weekly check-ins and if we don't need them, then we can cancel them. But usually, we at least have one weekly touch base. And I get kind of a rundown of what they're working on and what they're struggling with. And I manage people the way that I want to be managed. And so, I really value autonomy and working independently. And trust, you know, so having that autonomy, you have to have a certain level of trust with your people. And so I feel like I have that in my role and I pass that on to my employees and so I just make sure that they have everything that they need and if there's anything that I need to do for them, but I trust them as working professionals and as adults so that they can kind of make their way and I'll find, you know, sometimes we do have challenging conversations where, you know, we're dealing with a pretty complex issue and you know, sometimes somebody might say; "Okay, here's this issue, like, what would you do?" And I can tell them what I would do were my thoughts, but I actually want to hear from them first. Like, I want to know that they've kind of researched the issue. What are their thoughts on it and give them an opportunity to really learn what they need to do. And then you know and then I might share my thoughts after I hear from them.  

CJ: That's wonderful. And I've had mentors in my career in compliance, much like you. So, what you just described as the way you treat people is how I've experienced that mentorship. And we all kind of, if we have those mentors, they're special people in our lives because they're more than just somebody we work with. You spend so much time at work, It's like they're colleagues, their friends, they're mentors. And so that's beautiful.  

Johanna: Yeah! And I think another thing I will add to that is that as a leader, I really value work-life balance. And so, I make sure all of my employees know that and then even just, you know, my colleagues, not people that even report to me, but just I think that it's really important to stress work-life balance. And the number one priority in your life should be, you know, your own personal health and the health of the family, and if that means that you, you know or you're having a stressful day and you need to take off, then you should do that and or if you need to take a day off and you don't need to tell me why that's what your PTO is there for.  

So, I really do stress the importance of work-life balance because in compliance, we deal with a lot of different stressful situations and so having that freedom and kind of latitude to just say; "Hey, I'm not feeling great. I need to take some time off." I think you need that.  

CJ: Yeah! That's wonderful. No wonder you're the people you work with have given you these glowing recommendations because it comes through you care about them as people, not just okay, you know, this is the daily task or whatever.  

Johanna: Yes, exactly! 

CJ: So those are some great thoughts kind of on general leadership and teamwork. Let me ask you a little bit more about kind of maybe some technical skills and knowledge. And I understand also that you hold certifications and compliance and healthcare privacy and are probably part of the healthcare compliance associations and we were talking before about conferences. Tell me a little bit about the nuts and bolts and how you recommend people learn and what's the value of certifications and kind of constant learning. What are your thoughts on the kind of the subject matter?  

Johanna: Yeah. I mean, in terms of the subject matter, I mean, there's a lot of things that kind of stay constant, right? That just with compliance there's just so many emerging rules and regulations and you know, especially just going through COVID and the pandemic. I just feel like every other day, you know, like the wind blew different and you had to, like, learn about some new like, waiver flexibility, it's a lot. 

CJ: Exactly!  

Johanna: I think that staying nimble and really staying on top of all of those changing regulations. And you know, making sure, I mean, I guess this sounds very basic, but just making sure you're kind of like on those right like distribution list. So yeah, so it's like you know getting those you know daily updates from like the OIG or CMS and sometimes you kind of have to wade through information that may or may not relevant to you, but I think it is important to have that kind of that daily digest in your e-mail inbox every day to just have it front and center. And in terms of...  

CJ: Sorry, go ahead. I didn't mean to interrupt, go ahead.  

Johanna: Oh, no, it's okay. I was just going to say in terms of, certification, there are times that I do better or worse on keeping up with my CEOs.  

CJ: Right!  

Johanna: But I know that it is important and I'm just always looking out for, you know, different opportunities they can get to learn. And so, I mean your podcast is great. And also, just some of the materials for HCCA, I like doing the compliance today phases, so yeah.  

CJ: Right! Yeah, that's a great point. We have to... However, you as an individual do it to all of our listeners, right? But it's up to you. But you do have to kind of keep that saw sharp, right? You have to keep the skills sharp so that you can cut through the log and cut through the wood and if your blade gets dull you need some of that time to re-sharpen. I like your comment about kind of daily digesting kind of some of the reading I did that daily but then I also one thing that worked well for me is I would I usually block off like an hour or two like on a Friday or on a Monday, not usually Monday, but I would try to pick a time where I would put some things in like an unread box or an unread folder and it's like; "Okay, this is going to be my day, and I'm going to try the best I can to kind of be uninterrupted for a couple hours and kind of just do some learning," and that worked for me. But so, however, you know each individual, right?  

Johanna: Yeah, definitely! And then I mean, in terms of some of the subject matter, I mean without getting too much in the weeds or whatever, but I mean, just even attending the HCC conference recently, you know it was interesting to kind of see what sort of the general themes were.  

CJ: Yes!  

Johanna: So of course, it's like that always sort of motivates me and pushes me to say; "Okay, like wow, there were a lot of sessions on pricing transparency. I better get my wits about me on that."  

CJ: Exactly! 

Johanna: Or at least attend one or two of those sessions, and then I think it seems telehealth, you know is a lot more prevalent so just making sure that we're on top of all the different, you know, telehealth regulations and that's tricky because states have different telehealth laws versus federal, so really weaving yourself into all of that is difficult.  

CJ: Exactly! Great thoughts! Johanna, I could probably talk to you for all day, but we are getting kind of towards the end of our time together, I want you to maybe, to be thinking if you have any last-minute thoughts or comments, but I'm going to share one other thing about this award. So, I believe you received a physical award looking like a trophy, right? And as a part of the award, Healthicity made a donation to the United Way of North Idaho on your behalf. Tell us about your involvement in that cause you volunteer as president, I believe, or how that work?  

Johanna: Yeah! So, I've sat on the board of directors for the United Way of North Idaho since 2018, and then I've been the board president for the last couple of years. And yeah, I mean it, it's a great non-profit organization that is really involved with our community and sort of our three pillars that we focus on is Health; financial health and quality health care, Education; early childhood education, and Financial stability. 

CJ: Very good! Anything else on the United Way, I mean, that's amazing that you are kind of taking your own advice. You just were talking earlier in the podcast about this work-life balance and what a wonderful thing you're doing to serve your community with this organization.  

Johanna: Yeah! It is wonderful and very rewarding and then just to see how well that small staff works together. They're doing great things.  

CJ: That's super! So, I'll let you kind of have the last word if you have any last-minute thoughts either about this award or compliance in general, where are we headed? What's the next big risk? Whatever you want to say, if you're having last-minute thoughts as we close the podcast today.  

Johanna: You know nothing too meaningful to part with that, you know, again, I just want to say that I am incredibly honored by the award and when it was presented to me, I was so in shock, I think Sarah was there, and you know, I didn't even know that this existed. And I guess because it's new, but no, I'm just incredibly honored. So, thank you very much, I appreciate it.  

CJ: Absolutely, Johanna! And thank you for being who you are, for kind of showing by example. Thank you for taking some time to talk to us so we can get to know you a little bit better.  

Johanna: Thank you! 

CJ: Thank you everybody for listening to another episode of Compliance Conversations. If you enjoy these, please share them with friends and we always invite, you know, if you have a topic, a subject matter that you'd like to hear about, please reach out to us and let us know, or if you know of a guest, somebody who might be an expert in that material or you might make a good guest, please share their name with us. And until our next episode, please be safe everyone, and take care. Thank you! 

Questions or Comments?