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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 1, 2003 | Vol. 33 No. 13
Frank Kellner Knows the Benefits of Working at JHU

Frank Kellner, who recently announced his retirement as senior director of Benefits Administration, in his Wyman Park office. He will officially step down in March.

Senior director steps down after 30 years of overseeing your benefits package

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

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 coverage options.

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 Benefits 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 so well-known.

What are some of the most significant changes to benefits administration that you've witnessed during your tenure?

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 organizations'?

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 the time.

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 faces?

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 package?

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, underutilized benefits?

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 benefit?

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 decisions.

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 of advice?

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 benefits?

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.


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