At 5 a.m. her feet are on the trail, '90s pop pulses through her headphones and fresh mountain air fills her lungs. For Jessica Johnson, an early morning trail run, followed by a strong cup of coffee, is a non-negotiable start to having a productive day.
Johnson's days are certainly busy. As the western U.S. regional manager of healthcare banking for BOK Financial® with recently-expanded responsibilities, she oversees a business that encompasses senior housing, skilled nursing, medical and physician banking, and more.
"This new role takes on some facets of the healthcare banking world that I wasn't previously working on," she said. "But I really love it. Healthcare workers are caring for some of the highest-need populations in the country and what they do is largely underappreciated."
“Healthcare workers are caring for some of the highest-need populations in the country and what they do is largely underappreciated. “They really care about the quality of care that they’re providing and it means something to me to be able to help them be successful in those endeavors.”- Jessica Johnson, regional manager of healthcare banking
"They really care about the quality of care that they're providing and it means something to me to be able to help them be successful in those endeavors."
Living in Colorado and managing teams in Denver, Phoenix and Tulsa, Johnson, the married mom of an almost-6-year-old, approaches her job the same way she hikes a mountain trail: sure-footed, forward thinking, an eye on the end goal and full of enthusiasm.
She has arrived at this point in her career with the sage advice of her colleague Brad Vincent, specialized banking executive at BOK Financial, ringing in her ears: "He told me once 'always play the long game.' And that's proven valuable time and time again."
Solving problems, meeting needs
It's not the career Johnson's younger self thought she'd embark on; but it's one she's running enthusiastically toward.
She grew up in north Texas, the oldest of four. Like many of her classmates, she spent her time showing cattle and pigs at state fairs and other competitions.
"I was raised around agriculture," she said. "But I was always really fascinated by the business side as well. When I was 9 years old I asked for a briefcase for Christmas, and I got it. I was so excited. I've always been interested in finding a way to marry the two interests."
She earned an agriculture economics degree from Oklahoma State University and joined BOK Financial as an Accelerated Career Track trainee some 16 years ago.
The program allowed her to rotate through all areas of the company to find the place she felt the most at home. After completing her rotations, Johnson worked as an analyst and a banker in Tulsa for several years in the corporate banking group before joining the healthcare team when it was formed in 2013.
"I joke now that you don't really seek out a healthcare banking career, you fall into it," she said. "But I can't imagine doing anything else. It's such a dynamic, needs-based, ever-evolving industry.
BOK Financial set out to grow healthcare into a national line of business but began with a focus on senior housing and skilled nursing.
"Healthcare, in general, took a big hit during the pandemic and is still feeling the effects," said Johnson. "Skilled nursing, for example, has the highest COVID mortality rate and is very heavily regulated. This brings unique challenges."
Labor shortages and supply chain disruptions are still both being acutely felt in the healthcare industry, too. "It's hard to attract and retain talent to an industry under that much scrutiny and pressure," she said.
A 2018 acquisition added medical and physician banking to the mix, further expanding Johnson's team and its scope.
"This specialty provides banking services to large specialized physician groups delivering care through areas like dialysis, orthopedics and urology."
The pandemic highlighted how needs-based this industry is, she said. "People are worn out, so private equity firms are buying up practices. We'll soon see fewer and fewer independent physicians."
And that merger and acquisition activity will impact the healthcare banking business, along with other Industry changes that were taking place long before the pandemic.
"The industry always has challenges," she said. "You're always fighting threats to cut Medicare and Medicaid funding, and that can mean changing reimbursement methodology. There's just always something in flux.
"I've always wanted to be business-focused, but for a business that solves a problem or meets a need. And that's exactly what our team does."
Top image: Johnson (center) pictured with fellow panelists at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) conference, spring 2022.