Many Faces and Places of Johns Hopkins Medicine
—Anne Bennett Swingle
Social Worker at Heart
My need to reach out to the poor and the sick has always been strong, and in my 20s, I entered the Franciscans, a Catholic order in which you take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The Franciscans devote their lives to working with the poor. But I found out that for some, it’s a calling away from the responsibilities of life. So after three years—and a month away from taking my vows—I left the order. I felt I could be a better Franciscan outside the order.
That year, 1983, I was hired at Wyman Park as a social worker. Ten years later, I joined East Baltimore Medical Center. When I came here, staff felt overworked and wanted to protect themselves from the poverty and the many needs of the community.
Then, there was a sea change in the overall leadership of Johns Hopkins Community Physicians. Folks realized that surviving as a company meant truly tuning into the needs around us. People got on board who saw me as one who cared about and loved this community.
Three years ago, I became administrator of EBMC. I didn’t have a clue about managing this entire place. I’d never taken a business course or a marketing course. But I knew I could lean on folks who could help me. I still do. When it comes to wanting to do the right thing by patients, we’re all on the same page.
I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like had I stayed with the Franciscans. I have to remind myself that I’ve not left the Franciscans; the Franciscan spirit has stayed with me this whole time.
The job takes tremendous energy. I don’t know where I get it, I honestly don’t. But despite the administrative responsibilities I now have, I’m still at heart a social worker. I’m still just Dan, reaching out to people. It’s social work. That’s all it is.
A Huge Transition
Nine years ago I adopted a patient I had taken care of at the Children’s Center. Yuri, an orphan from Russia, had come to Hopkins with bladder exstrophy, a congenital defect in which the bladder is on the outside of the body.
Looking back, I would say that the No. 1 challenge was getting Yuri to stop defining himself by what was wrong with him. It took me a year or two to finally get him to be Yuri. Who, by the way, happens to have bladder exstrophy.
Now Yuri is 19. His health is excellent. He’s active and physically fit. He graduated cum laude from high school. He’s going into mass communications in college, and he’s got the personality, drive and intelligence to succeed.
I’ve worked in the Children’s Center for 26 years. I came here when I was 23. It’s a real community. This huge transition in my life—adopting Yuri—came about all because I work here.
How do I know it was the right thing to do? When Yuri came to us, I told my two sons that it wasn’t like he was coming from eBay, that we could send him back. He was coming to stay. But I had my whole lecture prepared for when the boys told Yuri he wasn’t really their brother, he could go back to Russia, I wasn’t really his mom, and Dad wasn’t really his dad. I was sure it was going to happen. But I have to tell you, I never gave that lecture. Not ever. That’s how I know it was right.
All my life I wanted to work at Hopkins. Before I came here, I was working in a minimum-wage job. I needed the job to set some sort of precedent, because I had been away from work for so long.
I’d had an addiction problem and had gone into recovery. I asked to go in. I was on probation, and I went to my probation officer and told him that I needed to be sent somewhere so I could learn something about my addiction. They sent me to a place where I stayed 28 days. When I came out, I started going to NA meetings, AA meetings—anything to keep me off the street.
I kept in touch with Sandy [Sandy Johnson, HR orientation coordinator]. I went to see her several times. I guess I got on her nerves, but that’s how bad I wanted a job. One day I called her and she said, Cal, I got good news for you. Someone wants to see you in Personnel. I went in and got the job in Environmental Services. I’m getting my GED. I passed everything but my math. Hopefully, the next time I’ll pass it. I’ve been thinking about going higher. There are so many things I want to do, but I know I can’t do them until I get that piece of paper. It means the world to me.
I left school early and got married at 17. Then everything started going haywire with addiction. Now I’m 58 and me and my wife are still married. We have five children, one deceased. All have had problems with drugs and crime. So we are raising our grandkids. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes my children and I made.
Just being able to wake up and see a smile on my grandkids’ faces makes me happy, because there were so many days when my children woke up miserable because of what I was doing. My wife knows I’m working every single day. God has really been with me.
Try Blowing This
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced was moving to Maryland from Port Washington, Long Island, where I was born and bred, and my kids were the fourth generation to live in my house. But I was looking for a change, and for years, I had wanted to join Johns Hopkins. The reputation is just amazing. Here at Johns Hopkins HealthCare, it’s a family atmosphere. That’s what really sold me on coming down here.
I still play music all the time, and all my kids play musical instruments. A few years ago, they heard about the Marching Ravens. We did the audition, and we got into the band, my daughter and I on cymbals, one son on the trumpet, and the other on the sousaphone, a type of tuba.
Eventually, they asked me to switch to sousaphone. I had never played that thing in my life, but my son taught me how to play. It’s a tough instrument not only because it obviously requires a lot of air, but also because we dance and run with those things and play at the same time. Once, we had to stop, spin and drop to our knees and almost have the bell touch the field, backwards.
A couple of years ago, my friends back home were watching Giants vs. Ravens on Monday Night Football, and they had a shot of me. They’re like, Is that Pete? Oh my God, could Pete Zirpolo be in a band? They called my mother to see if it was true, and she says, Yeah, he’s in Baltimore’s Marching Ravens.
One thing I did not think I would get into was a marching band, and this is a regimented marching band, the biggest and second-oldest in the NFL. But it’s a big part of the family now, and it’s been a blast.
Adventures in Singapore
I came to Singapore as assistant general manager in January 2005, after a residency at Hopkins Hospital in Operations Integration. Learning the culture has been the biggest challenge. Everything works differently here. It’s very hierarchical. In the workplace, the height of your chair depends on your seniority. In the States, you normally look someone in the eye; here that’s considered kind of aggressive. Here, they’re not afraid to ask you point blank about anything personal in your life.
When I go back to Baltimore, it seems almost like the Midwest, there’s so much room. Here, it’s kind of like Midtown Manhattan. Everything is on top of you with people living in high-rises.
Singapore is about an hour’s flight from Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia. You can go to Vietnam or Cambodia. Through work and personal leave, I’ve been to Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Beirut, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
I’ve traveled to actually play polo. I grew up playing, played in college and then professionally. I found the Singapore Polo Club, a really neat club in the heart of downtown Singapore with skyscrapers all around. We play teams from places like Dubai, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei. It’s fun but not as glamorous as it sounds, not the Prince Charles type thing everyone assumes it is.
After Singapore, I could possibly go to the UAE with Johns Hopkins Global Management Services. After being in the Middle East, I’ve come to realize that each country, even though they’re all Arab countries, has its own character, and the people are some of the nicest I’ve encountered anywhere in the world.
I definitely want to come back to Baltimore and to Hopkins. Everybody you meet at Hopkins is so smart and so talented. It’s fantastic. But for now, while I’m in my 20s and single, I’m enjoying this great opportunity to live abroad, travel and build my knowledge base.