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Indian Health Service The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives

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Past Director - Emery Johnson

Emery Johnson

Assistant Surgeon General

Director Indian Health Service 1969-1981

Dr. Emery A. Johnson, a family practice physician from Minnesota came into the Indian health program before the transfer act of 1955. He came into the Public Health Service with the thought of staying for a 2-year obligation service and then getting out. He did get out -- but some 28 years later!

In 1969, “Emery” became the fourth Director of Indian Health Service. He remained as Director until 1981 and served the longest tenure of any Indian Health Service Director -- 12 years.

Dr. Johnson entered the Public Health Service and was assigned to the Indian Health Program about a year previous to the transfer from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to the Public Health Service (PHS). He served as a reservation staff physician in Winnebago, Nebraska and White Earth, Minnesota. He also spent his entire Public Health Service career associated with the Indian Health program. He had a number of interesting and varied assignments at such locations as Billings, Montana as the Billings Area Director; Director of the Phoenix Arizona Indian Medical Center; Chief of Program Services at the Silver Spring Indian Health Service Headquarters; Deputy Director of the Indian Health Service to the Director Dr. Rabeau, and then became Director of the Indian Health Service in 1969.

During Dr. Johnson’s tenure, the Indian Health Service made mammoth strides and gains in not only the delivery of comprehensive health care services to American Indians and Alaskan Natives, but in the construction of new and modern hospital and clinical facilities. There was also major updating and renovation of many of the old and antiquated hospitals and clinics that had been transferred from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Dr. Johnson was a major catalysis and prime mover to Indian involvement in the management and operation of the Indian Health Service health care delivery system and program. He was and still is a champion for legislation that impacts upon the health care and services of American Indians and Alaskan Natives.

He was a major contributor to the development, writing and passage of sweeping legislation effecting the American Indians and Alaskan Natives such as: Public Law (P.L.) 93-63, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, P.L 94-437 passed in 1976. He was a champion for Indian preference and the assurance that qualified Indians and Alaskan Natives assumed leadership positions in the Indian Health program. His efforts over the years have indeed placed Indian leadership in a posture, if they desire to take over and manage their health care delivery system and progress.

Dr. Johnson retired in 1981 after a 30-year career as a Public Health Service Commissioned officer. He currently resides in Maryland and Virginia and is active in a number of projects concerning Indian Tribal activities, legislation and health care and services.

This biography has not been altered from the time it was last issued by the Indian Health Service.

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