181 W. Emmett St.
Battle Creek, Michigan 49037
Dr. A.J. Jones was raised in Battle Creek. But his was not a comfortable life; his family of seven barely scraped by, with no regular well-child exams or trips to the dentist. As CEO of the Family Health Center of Battle Creek, Jones is determined to help those in need to break the cycle of poverty through access to quality healthcare.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Family Health Center of Battle Creek President and CEO Dr. A.J. Jones, Ph.D.:
I believe in the “Good to Great” concept that John Collins developed and published in his book, “Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking Is Not the Answer
.” In it, he describes what a leader does: he has a vision and sees the future, using the right people in the right places and then in the right positions. His concept is something like, “You have to get on the right bus and that bus has to be going in the right direction, but you also have to be sitting in the right seat.”
It’s a great book. We were doing this long before it came out, and it works. I hire someone, uncover their strengths, and then place them in the right position in order to help them be successful. If someone has the skills to be very detail-oriented, I do not place them in a vague position where they won’t excel. Not everyone can do the same job, so I try to use their gifts to put
If there weren't a place like this, staffed with this level of dedication, where would they go for this kind of care? Nowhere.
them where they will be the most successful.
What is your dream for kids?
I dream that everyone can learn to recognize that each child is different and has individual needs. I dream that we can always provide an environment here at the Family Health Center that is conducive to learning and to safety. This means educating parents so they know how vital immunizations, regular checkups, and dental health are, and so they’ll pass that knowledge on. I dream that these kids will grow up knowing what being healthy means. With good nutrition, exercise, and regular medical and dental care, a child grows up ready to be productive in life.
We have a huge pediatric department and we give them a good start as soon as they are born. Without shots, exams, and oral health, the public perceives kids differently. They may not get the right job if they have rotting or missing teeth. If there weren’t a place like this, staffed with this level of dedication, where would they go for this kind of care? Nowhere. These things couldn’t happen for them. We are their safety net, and they deserve a fair shot at life from the beginning.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Bringing people together. After 21 years at the Family Health Center of Battle Creek, I see it as the most important thing we can do.
I chair a CEO forum comprised of healthcare professionals for this very reason. It’s an informal group of about 15 people – the CEOs of hospitals, clinics, ambulance services – people who run any type of organization dedicated to heath care. We have been doing this once a month for 11 years and there is never an agenda. We just get together to share ideas and information. It’s fun, it’s relaxing, and it has allowed us to normalize and humanize each other. We have all grown to know each other personally, and we are all relatively good friends. That is important in the healthcare business because if we do not know enough about each other, we tend to make assumptions. That is not the way things should be. These relationships
When you live in poverty, people treat you like crap, like a pariah, because you don't look like them or smell like them or dress like them. I want to help drop those barriers.
break down the silos. We need to be colleagues.
How do you know you’re making progress?
We cater to the uninsured and to those with Medicaid; we have a special niche of patients who come to us for medical and dental care, and we have no shortage of patients.
Here’s how I see progress: we do zero marketing, but we still get 500 to 1,000 new patients every month simply by word of mouth. They feel comfortable coming here and they tell people about us. Our employees treat clients, and each other, with the utmost respect and dignity, and I would have it no other way. I have zero tolerance for bad attitudes, gossip, rumors or negativity.
What are you most proud of?
It’s definitely my staff. There are 270 people working here, and we simply hire the right ones and then get out of their way. I believe in recognition and lots of regular praise for jobs well done. Because of that, they become very confident and they develop great attitudes. This confidence pays off in the form of employees who really want to work harder.
You have to encourage people, and when you do, they just keep wanting to do more. I have a great deal of respect for all of them.
What originally drew you to your current profession?
I was born in poverty. My mother has a fifth grade education and my father made it to the eighth grade. I grew up without health care or dental care. There were seven of us, including my parents, and our lives were about survival. We had enough food and marginal clothing, but that was it. Just the basics; my parents did not have enough left for anything more.
I had a choice to make. I could keep living in poverty or figure out a way to work my way out of it. I decided to break the poverty cycle because I didn’t want to live the way I was raised. That was my impetus to choose this profession.
All my parents expected of me was a high school diploma, because neither of them had one. But I set out on my journey, getting one degree at a time. First, an associate’s degree, then my bachelor’s degree, then my master’s degree, and finally my doctorate. I am also a registered nurse.
I’m a strong willed person and I had self-determination, but my faith is a contributing factor, too. My parents have very strong faith, and they instilled their beliefs in me – they always made sure I knew that I should give back to others. That’s why I chose this organization.
Everyone has a purpose in life. Mine is to help others navigate the health care system – the people who do not feel like they have a voice. I know what that feels like. When you live in poverty, people treat you like crap, like a pariah, because you don’t look like them or smell like them or dress like them. I want to help drop those barriers. I am here to try to give these people their voices.