Former chief nursing officer at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore ‘loved helping and caring for people’; she died at age 71
Diane Johnson, the retired Sinai Hospital of Baltimore chief nursing officer recalled as a forceful professional leader, died of breast cancer Friday at her Gainesville, Virginia, home. The former Randallstown and Reisterstown resident was 71.
“She had extremely high standards for patients and cared deeply for her staff,” said Neil Meltzer, president and chief executive officer of LifeBridge Health. “There were times when she had 1,000 nurses reporting to her. She was their advocate. She was a strong leader and was also very fair. She would listen intently and always put the patients’ best interest first.”
Born Leateen Diane, in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, she was the daughter of Lloyd Mullings and Cynthia Blackwood. She was also the daughter of Clifton and Kathleen Wallace.
“She just loved helping and caring for people,” said her sister, Karen Wallace. “As a child she was a voracious reader and always did well in school.”
She moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, when she was 13 and earned honors at Classical High School in 1970. She played the piano, sang in the choir, worked on the school paper and won awards for Latin. She then earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of Bridgeport.
“She was a dignified person and people called her Lady Di, but she loved having fun with her family and friends. She had a great sense of humor,” her sister said.
She joined the nursing staff at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore and initially worked in the newborn and intensive care nurseries in 1975.
Debra Morton, Sinai’s chief nursing officer said, “Those who knew Diane speak about her strength, dignity and intelligence. While she exuded a quiet confidence and elegance, she was a vocal and fierce advocate for her nurses and nursing education.”
Mrs. Johnson went into nursing management and held the posts of assistant head nurse, nursing supervisor and then associate director of nursing in Women’s Services and Pediatrics.
“She was a strong woman who believed in high standards,” said Ida Samet, a Sinai co-worker. “She was inspirational and had the talent to gain the respect of the leaders who worked for and with her.”
In 1979, she married Willie Johnson. They lived in Randallstown.
Mrs. Johnson earned a master’s degree in business administration in 1992. She then became the hospital’s director of emergency and critical care services.
“My mother would trek to Sinai in a snowstorm and sleep on the floor if necessary,” said her daughter, Kelli Johnson. “She was a genuine and generous person.”
In 1994, she became vice president of patient care services and Sinai’s chief nursing officer.
According to a hospital profile, she was responsible for planning, financial management and the direction of hospital operations for the departments of nursing, radiology, respiratory care, pulmonary function lab, among other service areas.
“Diane elevated performance in all of these areas and demanded excellence even in the most minor details,” said a colleague, Diane Bongiovanni. “She always insisted her directors wear stockings and we couldn’t wear sandals.”
“Diane was the anchor and beating heart of Sinai’s Patient Care Department for over four decades,” said Ms. Bongiovanni.
When some nurses lobbied her to institute a four-day work week, Mrs. Johnson disagreed.
“Diane wouldn’t hear of it,” said Ms. Bongiovanni. “She used a red pen to edit anything we submitted to her. She was a stickler for proper grammar. She was old-fashioned but young at heart.”
Her nursing teams secured the American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet designation.
“My mother was humble and the magnet designation meant recognition for the nurses she worked with,” said Kelli Johnson.
While at Sinai, she implemented a joint center, a stem cell unit, a stroke unit, and an intermediate care unit.
In 2002, she was awarded the Women of Color in Health, Science and Technology Special Recognition Award.
She was a past board member of the Maryland Healthcare Education Institute Board and Nursing Spectrum’s VA, MD, DC Advisory Board.
She retired in 2018.
Mrs. Johnson was an excitable basketball fan who rooted for the Chicago Bulls and the Golden State Warriors. She was also a Ravens fan, art collector and table puzzle solver. She liked musicals. “The Sound of Music” was her favorite.
She traveled annually throughout New England to view fall colors.
Survivors include her husband of 44 years, Willie Johnson, a retired facilities manager; a daughter, Kelli Johnson of Gainesville, Virginia; a stepson, Dontay Johnson of Atlanta; three sisters, Karen Wallace of Boston and Verollyn Mullings-Osbourne and Paulette Mullings-John, both of Canada; and three brothers, Llowellyn Mullings and Newton Mullings, both of Jamaica, and Philmore Mullings of Canada.
A life celebration will be held at 4 p.m. March 25 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 6750 Fayette St. in Haymarket, Virginia.