There are many things in John Gill’s lengthy career for which he may be well remembered. As senior attorney/shareholder and director with Gill Ragon Owen, P.A. in Little Rock, he’s successfully litigated, advised governors and helped shape the state’s constitution. As an author and historian, he’s chronicled the many sights of Arkansas, thus enhancing the state’s tourism industry.
His decades-long service to Methodist Family Health, a tenure that stretches more than 50 years, ranks right with the best of these impressive credentials. Over the decades, his time and expertise helped the organization navigate the shifting needs and regulatory tides to serve some of Arkansas’ children and families most in need.
“The child that you get today is a different child than 50 years ago,” he said. “Children needing care and getting help by way of Methodist receive treatment that has changed enormously.”
Methodist Family Health was founded in 1899 as Arkansas Methodist Orphanage, and operated as such for the first half of its existence. By the time Gill came into the picture in the mid-1960s, the organization was in the midst of fundamentally changing the way it delivered services, moving from a large institutional model to Methodist Children’s Homes – smaller group homes staffed by house parents.
Gill’s wise counsel and leadership enabled the board to adapt not only to this changing model, but constantly consider how Methodist Family Health (the group reorganized under that name in 2003) could evolve to best meet the needs of the community. The most ambitious example is the establishment of the Methodist Behavioral Hospital in Maumelle in 2001. Gill played a key role in the acquisition and launch of the hospital, the only service provider of its kind in the state.
“With the acquisition of the Methodist Behavioral Hospital, we implemented the Teaching Family Model there that we’d previously implemented through Methodist Children’s Home,” he said. “That changed the method by which you were teaching the child. Not a house mother necessarily, but a group of teachers almost in a school environment teaching the child.”
This new methodology enabled staff to better stay in step with the nature and scope of children requiring help. In addition to orphans of the classic definition, services were needed to serve an increasing number of kids suffering from other challenging backgrounds and conditions. Refining and perfecting the Teaching Family Model of care, Methodist has been effective in serving hard-to-place children and, before COVID-19, was considering ways to expand its number of units to reach more children statewide.
As if all of this wasn’t complex enough, the organization is now compensated through state and federal programs instead of funded as a ministry of the United Methodist Church in Arkansas. While the state’s United Methodists continue to contribute to the organization’s nonprofit Foundation, Methodist Family Health supports its mission of providing the best possible care to those who may need its help through most private insurance plans and contracts with government programs.
“When the state gets involved, then it gets more rules, more do’s, more don’ts, which is understandable,” Gill said. “I mean, the state’s putting their money in it, so they’ve got to have more controls.”
As complex and mercurial as Methodist Family Health’s mission has been and continues to be – just last year the federal government radically changed its funding model, causing the group to realign certain services – Gill sees good things for the organization upon which he’s left such an indelible mark.
“Methodist has a golden future as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “We now offer a continuum of care which enables us to take the troubled child, the child from a broken home or the mentally disturbed child and keep them within the bounds of Methodist Family Health services.
“It may be at the children’s home or the behavioral hospital or we have outpatient services. We moved from having just a mother and a father in a group home to this model of care that includes dozens and dozens of people in various locations.”
As his service to the organization came to a close, Gill looked at what has been accomplished with great pride, knowing despite the continued pace of change in this sector of human services, Methodist Family Health remains in good hands, doing good work.
“What they’re doing is being done well,” he said. “The success stories are just enormous and to get to be a part of something like that is pretty special.”
Gill received his undergraduate and law degrees from Vanderbilt University and joined the Arkansas Bar in 1962. He was a delegate to the 1969 Arkansas Constitutional Convention and served as special counsel to the Governor for the proposed Arkansas Constitution of 1996. He was on the faculty of the Arkansas College of Trial Advocacy, and an original member of the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Rules of Civil Procedure. He is a past President of the Arkansas Bar Association and was a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.