CMA Doc: Rosemarie Marshall Johnson, M.D.

April 28, 2017
Area(s) of Interest: Anesthesiology Physician Leadership 


Name: Rosemarie Marshall Johnson, M.D.
City: San Diego
Specialty: Anesthesiology
Member Since 1978

“If you want surgeons to donate their time and talents, first find an anesthesiologist,” says Rosemarie Marshall Johnson, M.D., a retired anesthesiologist, who helps recruit specialists for a program that provides health care for indigent and those without insurance.

Access to specialty health care for those with no insurance or those with Medi-Cal has proved difficult for many across the state of California. But in San Diego the program has helped more than 4,500 patients get care even if they have no way to pay for it.

In San Diego County, Champions for Health, founded in 2004 as the San Diego County Medical Society Foundation, runs a program that provides charitable care. The program, called Project Access, utilizes local doctors, nurses and other medical professionals and hospitals as volunteers who donate their time, skills and materials, allowing patients with limited means to receive free health care.

Since 2008, Dr. Johnson has helped the program recruit specialists. She has been a passionate advocate for the underserved and uninsured in her county. “When I retired, I didn’t have a bucket list,” she said. So she set her sights on helping those who needed access to care as one of her goals.

She was well known to most physicians in her area. She practiced as an anesthesiologist for over 40 years. She also chose to serve organized medicine as president of the San Diego County Medical Society and the California Society of Anesthesiologists; and has participated in the California Medical Association and the American Medical Association in many different capacities.  In the 1990s she was also appointed to the U.S.- Mexico Border Health Commission to help develop and infrastructure to improve health care delivery and affect health policy change through bi-national collaboration.

That she was well known and respected help expedite her recruitment efforts for Health Access. “My work [as an anesthesiologist] gave me an introduction to most specialists in the area,” she said. Almost no one turned her down, except one. “He was setting up a practice and moving into an office, two years later, he called me to volunteer.”

In fact, her recruitment efforts have helped the program grow so much that she no longer spends much time recruiting volunteers. She attributes this happy turn of events to the fact that the program takes the hassle out of providing health care. “Every patient that needs care has to have a primary care home,” she said. The primary care physician is responsible for filling out all the forms in detail, and when the volunteer group meets together to discuss upcoming treatments they look at the patient chart and decide which doctor would be appropriate. “We already have all the information a specialist will need,” says Dr. Johnson.

Once the decision has been made, case managers take over. They meet with the physician and the staff that will participate in the surgery. “We also make sure that the staff does not have extra work. We do everything,” she says, from making sure the patients have prescriptions and to getting appropriate imaging for the surgery. Case managers also guide the patient through the process. “We have less than one percent that do not show up for their first appointment with the specialist [because of the case managers’ help], so no one wastes time.”

She says this is why it was very easy to recruit physicians to the program. This is why most doctors went into medicine, they want to practice their art and help people. “If we can take the hassle out for them, they are very happy to help,” says Dr. Johnson.

The program is extensive with more than 625 volunteer physicians, 80 referring community clinics, 10 hospitals and 14 outpatient surgical centers, as well as ancillary health services that provide imaging, labs, medical equipment, physical therapy and more.

Champions for Health recognized Dr. Johnson with the "Health Heroes Lifetime Achievement" award for her volunteer service in late March at their annual Health Heroes Awards reception at Lomas Santa Fe County Club in Solana Beach.  

“The one thing about volunteering,” she said, “Is you always feel terrific afterwards.”

California's doctors aren't just health care and medical experts. They're also community leaders, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and policymakers dedicated to ensuring that patients receive quality health care at an affordable cost. #CMAdocs showcases California physicians leading the charge to help their communities thrive.

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