University employees last month received in the mail
their annual benefits enrollment workbook, a thick kit that
offers all the skinny on Johns Hopkins' various health
Each year, it seems, more details need to be crammed
into the workbook's pages, yet two words haven't changed in
decades: "Frank Kellner." Since 1973, Kellner, the senior
director of JHU's
Administration Office, has signed his name to these and
other important benefits-related documents. This time next
year, however, that signature will be gone.
Kellner recently announced his plans to step down from
his position, primarily to spend more time with his already
retired wife and their three new grandchildren.
For 30 years, Kellner has helped design, implement,
administer and communicate the various universitywide
benefit programs for faculty and staff.
When he came to Johns Hopkins, Kellner oversaw an
office of four that serviced 2,500 full-time employees.
Today, the Benefits Administration Office has a 25-person
staff that serves a population of roughly 14,000.
The Gazette recently sat down with this Baltimore
native, who officially retires in March 2004, to discuss
his career and the benefits programs for which Hopkins is
What are some of the most significant changes to
benefits administration that you've witnessed during your
One is simply the size of the organization. The number
of employees grows and grows. Another thing is just the
level of choice that is made available now to faculty and
staff in the benefits arena. In the old days, for instance,
there was one medical option, very little choice, and you
either took it or you didn't. Now, there are five options
for medical, three for dental.
How did you get into this line of work?
I had a business background, and I went into the
insurance world as a youngster, managing benefits programs.
It was an area that I thought was challenging and that
really gave you a chance to interact with people. I've
always known that what I do provides a significant service
for a lot of folks.
What separates Hopkins' benefits from other
When you compare our benefits with other higher
education institutions', we always rank very high. What we
offer is somewhat unique. There's a full breadth of things
offered here, from adoption assistance and day-care
scholarships to retirement programs that I think are among
the best available in the industry of higher education.
Also, our tax-free tuition assistance opportunities for
faculty, staff and their dependent children are unique and
as good as anyone's. Lastly, I would say that our training
and education opportunities are wonderful and growing all
Tuition assistance is certainly a great perk that many
seem to take advantage of.
Certainly. A few years ago it was expanded to include
all full-time staff, which sets us apart from many. It's
definitely a major recruitment tool. Over the years I've
been asked by several folks if I could get them, or their
spouse, a job here because their children were about to
enter college, and nobody else around offered quite the
kind of benefit that we do.
What are some of the challenges your office
One of the things that rears its ugly head from time
to time is the ever-increasing cost of health care. We want
to provide first-class coverage, but at the same time we
have to look at various options in funding vehicles to make
sure the dollars we are investing provide the most
cost-effective benefits we can offer. Another challenge is
trying to communicate to others our full range of benefits
— to make sure everyone knows what is available and
how they can be utilized.
Are there any common misconceptions about our benefits
I think one is that people don't really appreciate how
much health care insurance costs, and just how much is
actually subsidized by the university. I can tell you that
while people may think their monthly payments are high,
it's just a tiny fraction of what it really costs.
What are some of the lesser-known or, perhaps,
One that comes to mind is the Live Near Your Work
program, in which if you're looking to buy a home in
certain areas near Homewood or the East Baltimore campus,
the city, state and university will contribute money to
help you purchase the home. I don't think enough people are
aware of that benefit.
Any strange requests over the years, as far as adding a
Well, one funny one, actually. A number of years ago
we did a brief benefits survey. We asked people if there
were any shortcomings in our package, anything we should
offer that we don't. A couple of people responded that we
should offer a stock option [laughs]. Now really, who wants
to own stock in a nonprofit organization?
Best rewards of your job?
Probably the interaction with the individual faculty
and staff. It's wonderful when you know you've really
helped someone who had a significant health coverage issue,
and you can explain and help them through that. It's nice
seeing them leave the office very comfortable with their
Have you benefited much from our benefits?
Well, I'll soon benefit from our great retirement
program [laughs]. And, yes, my wife and I have three
children who went through private institutions with
generous assistance from the tuition program.
I know you're not leaving just yet, but any last words
One pet peeve, and something I always find amazing, is
the number of people who don't update their home address.
Our mailing costs are quite high, and too many of the
packets we send out have to be returned to sender because
that person had moved. So, yes, please update your home
address with Human Resources.
Anything you want to see happen in the future to Hopkins
One thing I will start before I leave is a complete
review of all our benefit plans. We need to see what we can
do to make available programs that continue to be of
importance to our people and help our effort to retain and
recruit — and do it as cost-effectively as possible.
My hope is that we can get this project done within the
first half of 2004.