It did not take long before the 18-year-olds in National Guard boot camp started asking Jonathan Bluemke questions. “Why are you here?” they wanted to know of the then-26-year-old going through the same grueling training as them. His answer then might have been more expansive, but his answer now is essentially the same as it was when he first enlisted: “I wanted to give back.”
Currently the division administrator for both Cardiovascular Medicine and Endocrinology, Bluemke has always looked for ways to contribute, particularly in times of change. After finishing his BA in Sociology and Math at the University of Illinois, he entered Rush University to earn his MS in Health Systems Management. It was while he was enrolled at Rush that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed, upending more than a few programs’ curricula across the country, among its many changes. Bluemke studied those changes carefully.
When it came time for him to pursue an administrative fellowship, University of Iowa Health Care’s program under then-CEO Ken Kates was one of a few options for him. Bluemke admitted his interview with Kates was nerve-wracking. “In your hour meeting with him, he asks you a couple questions and then you have 55 minutes of asking him questions.” He must have asked the right questions. “I got a call about a week later and knew I was moving to Iowa City.”
One of Bluemke’s first tasks was to help the institution navigate the still-fresh landscape of health care in a post-ACA world. He helped to lead the successful construction of a partnership Accountable Care Organization (ACO) with other organizations and the federal application to designate UI Health Care as one. “Nobody knew what those were and nobody really knew how to operationalize those things.” For the better part of ten weeks, he and his teammates pored over requirements, assembling the documentation to verify Iowa satisfied them. Bluemke was consumed: “There were a ton of different departments that had to be involved, and it was really interesting.” Once approved, Bluemke helped track data within the ACO and ensured it was meeting its goals.
After the end of his fellowship and he was hired to work in Strategic Planning, a new opportunity popped up for Bluemke: hospital CEO. A member of Iowa’s Critical Access Hospital Network, the Van Buren County Hospital and Clinics in Keosauqua ninety miles to the south was down a chief executive officer. Because UI Health Care’s administrative relationship with the small-town hospital is such that they provide Van Buren’s CEO, a search was underway. Leadership approached Bluemke about taking on the role on an interim basis. “Not knowing much about it,” Bluemke joked, “I said ‘sure.’”
He soon found out what he had agreed to. In Strategic Planning, he had deep experience with every department at UI Hospitals & Clinics, but at Van Buren, he was suddenly responsible for everything. “It was a humbling experience,” he said. “It was not just high-level decisions, but also living very much in the day-to-day operations, building relationships.” Though it was a role Bluemke took very seriously, he still had responsibilities back in Iowa City as well on the Strategic Planning team. For about six months, he split each week between the two locations.
Once a permanent replacement had been found, Bluemke turned his sights toward the National Guard. Currently holding the rank of first lieutenant in the medical service corps, Bluemke travels to Sioux City once a month for work with his unit and spends a few weeks each summer on annual training. His responsibilities include coordinating the movement of medical equipment, anticipating needs, and keeping track of thousands of individual health care concerns. “The only difference between here and the field,” he said, “is being ready to do everything with nothing more than a piece of paper and a pencil.”
When he’s not helping keep hundreds of soldiers from dehydrating during sweltering July exercises, Bluemke is helping coordinate significant portions of patient care, education, and research within his two divisions and making sure that everyone’s numbers add up. Cardiovascular Medicine’s Division Director Barry London, MD, PhD, has long valued Bluemke’s skills. “Jonathan is a hard-working and conscientious administrator who is dedicated to doing what is right. He gets things done the right way.” Their division coordinator, Hailey Hebl, appreciates his refusal to settle. “He is always looking for ways we can improve our processes. He strives for excellence and expects the same from the people around him.”
A different kind of change will head Bluemke’s way when he gets married in early June. He “tries to keep up with” his fiancée, a triathlete who also works for UI Health Care. “About the only thing I can beat her in right now, I think, is ping pong.” Managing all these different demands might be too much for most people, but Bluemke handles it with understatement. “There’s a lot of stuff going on right now, but I’d much rather be busy.”