Early in her career, Julie Bluhm knew she wanted to do something that had an impact on her community. So, she became a therapist. But soon, she became aware of systemic problems in the healthcare system, which made her feel like she was just teaching her clients how to survive a world that wasn’t working for them.
“I felt very frustrated working as a direct social worker. It was clear to me very quickly that our systems aren’t made to serve people,” said Julie. “At every juncture, it’s hard to get needs met for mental health and physical health.”
Julie felt burnout in herself, but also saw it in fellow coworkers across the board in her field. She imagined a world where the job had more support. A visionary thinker, Julie felt compelled to advocate for changes in the organizations she worked in.
When she took on a program director role at a residential mental health facility for adolescents, she was able to use her experience and insight as a social worker to begin to fix the problems. “I was passionate about the ability I had as a manager to effect change and create a supportive environment,” she says.
Later, as the Director of Hennepin Health, Julie had the opportunity to affect change at a much larger level – working on National Health Care Reform.
Throughout her career, Julie witnessed the struggle of people in poverty who couldn’t afford healthcare.
“The U.S. pays the most for healthcare, but we don’t take care of people before they’re sick,” says Julie. She saw people forgoing preventative measures because of a lack of ability to pay for them. She saw how that can lead to many other problems that could have been prevented. She saw how poverty and homelessness can make the cycle worse. She saw the people who needed help the most not getting it.
Julie notes, “The key to health is to ensure people have housing, a job, and a healthy living environment.”
Julie and Guild
Julie heard about Guild when she met Guild’s previous president, Grace Tangjerd-Schmitt. In talking with Grace, Julie saw that Guild’s programs were doing what health care reform was trying to prove: that social work can solve many of the systemic problems in the healthcare industry.
Julie learned through her career that finding and keeping housing can have a huge impact on health. She knows the work that social workers do to partner with landlords and help clients find housing is essential. She saw social work as a solution to the broken healthcare and housing systems.
She was impressed by Guild’s Hospital to Home program, for example, because they tackle the homelessness crisis by building relationships with landlords and creating a housing supply for clients to get their needs met. “Guild is a living example of an organization that has proven what healthcare reform was seeking to prove,” says Julie.
As the Executive Director of Guild, Julie is invigorated by being able to see the outcomes of Guild’s work. Guild helps clients “navigate the messy system.” Seeing people who are safe, accessing healthcare, and integrated into their community gives meaning to Julie’s work.
When it comes to Guild staff, Julie loves the passion and willingness to embrace change that she sees. “Our team is so driven and passionate, and I see that at every level.”
Julie also is “completely inspired by the way our entire organization is working with COVID.” When things were uncertain, and no one knew exactly what was going on, the leadership team worked hard to make a plan that would help both staff and clients.
Guild is the largest organization that Julie has led. In her last position, she led a staff of around 40. At Guild, Julie realized that she’d have to adjust her leadership style and expectations for a staff of around 200.
At a larger organization like Guild, she realized, changes are often more incremental. Julie describes herself as always having been the “activist employee” who saw problems and wanted to quickly implement solutions. In becoming a leader of a larger organization, she realized that change isn’t just made by those at the top declaring what should be. It takes everyone working together to make a difference.
As a leader, Julie strives to be available, approachable, and big-picture oriented. “I really tend to lead with my interpersonal skills,” says Julie. In a non-COVID world, Julie loves being in the office and interacting with staff. These days, she tries to find new ways to interact with staff while most are working from home.
Julie believes in cultivating and supporting leaders at different organizational levels. She enjoys hands-on projects but also strives to empower her staff to make decisions and lead.
Where is Guild Going?
Julie’s vision for Guild is to continue to do what we do best. Provide high-quality services to meet the needs of our community. We are eager to build partnerships with communities and providers to expand our work to more people.
Our rebrand this past May aimed to make everything from our messaging to our website more user-friendly, welcoming, and accessible. In the fall, we will be opening the first residential mental health treatment facility in Scott County.
Read more about Guild’s purpose, past, and present.