Head bowed in emotional silence, Warren Harmon gathered himself before rising to accept a prestigious award named after his mentor.
Harmon, Mayo Clinic's director of video operations, was selected as the first-ever recipient of the Richard A. Blackburn President's Award for Leadership and Service at a trade association's national convention held Sept. 26 in Texas.
He's one of the longest tenured members of the Communications Media Management Association and his primary mentor was Blackburn, the former CMMA president who died in 2017.
Blackburn's widow flew down from Washington to personally present the award to Harmon.
"I was just so proud that she was there to honor his memory," Harmon said. "When they called my name, I was stunned and humbled. I sat there for five seconds before I stood up. Dick was someone who helped me in my own mentorship journey. It felt very special and actually motivated me to keep working harder for the next generation."
'One of my go-to people'
Marv Mitchell, Mayo's chairman of media support services, beamed as he watched his hand-picked protege get recognized by his peers. Seventeen years after personally recruiting Harmon to fill his old role, Mitchell was one of the few people in the room aware that Harmon was about to be honored.
Mitchell says the award reaffirmed his decision to recruit a fellow CMMA member at the turn of the century.
"He's one of my go-to people," Mitchell said. "Warren, he understands the media industry. He lives and breathes it, even through his hobbies. He was definitely the right choice."
While Mayo's medical practice has been thriving for decades as awards have rolled in, its Allied Health staff has quietly grown to provide the necessary logistical support. That's especially true in Harmon's line of work, where Mayo's tech gurus are constantly "testing and evaluating" new toys to enhance the patient experience.
That process began when Dr. Louis B. Wilson hired Mayo's first staff photographer more than a century ago, Harmon said. The department of one has grown into a specialized group of 225 employees aimed at photography, video, intranet, print production, media technology and a host of other duties. Harmon is one of six directors on Mitchell's leadership team.
Perhaps Harmon's crowning achievement is something many now take for granted. He says that reflects just how fast technology is changing and how hard it is to stay on the cutting edge. He often leans on CMMA colleagues for feedback.
In 2002, Mayo replaced its archaic VHS rental system with a video on-demand system. The innovation allowed patients to watch first-run movies and medically relevant educational videos while resting in hospital rooms.
While now considered industry standard, Mayo's in-house system predated similar efforts from many cable companies.
"It was mainly for patient education programs," Mitchell said. "The old system was kind of a nightmare … and this was before most cable companies had on-demand video services."
Keeping up with the times
Harmon played a critical role in that process 15 years ago, but he's now dreaming even bigger.
Mayo is in the process of refreshing its video services across the system. The five-year plan includes moving to an all-digital system that runs over ethernet, bigger on-screen icons, a simpler remote, and educational material grouped for easier navigation, among other things.
The Eau Claire, Wis., site is serving as Mayo's guinea pig, with everyone else expected to be updated within about two years, Harmon said. The Rochester facilities are currently undergoing "opportunistic installation" of the next generation system, which includes trading out the outdated tube TVs with new flat screens, according to Mitchell.
Mayo officials declined to say how much the refresh will cost. However, it's considered the cost of satisfying growing technology demands from consumers.
"We're just keeping up with the appetite of media, and video is highly sought after now," Harmon said. "Just keeping up with the demand and staying one step ahead with technology. We're evaluating everything right now, like we're doing with our interactive patient TV … to anticipate what our staff will require in order to be successful.
"At the root of everything we do is patient care. If it's not helping the patient directly, it's trying to serve those that do."