Harrell named 2008 Public Health Alumnus of the Year
Published 3:45 am Wednesday, November 19, 2008
By By Kerry Whipple-Bean
Ruth Harrell “retired” 10 years ago, but on Tuesday she was at work in Alabama’s Black Belt, advocating for better rural healthcare on behalf of the Alabama Medical Education Consortium.
Such dedication is among the reasons Harrell, a Flomaton resident, was honored by her alma mater as the University of Alabama-Birmingham School of Public Health’s 2008 Alumnus of the Year.
Harrell, a nurse for 48 years and a public health official for 28, is known for her tireless efforts on behalf of healthcare causes, including chairmanship of the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County, which brings together various health-related industry and service professionals to discuss healthcare issues in the community. Among the group’s most recent successes is establishing the Wheels of Wellness, a van service that takes needy children and expectant mothers to doctor’s appointments.
For Harrell, earning her master’s degree in public health “opened a world for me,” she said.
Harrell was nominated for the UAB award by Rickey Elliott, a fellow alumnus and the state public health officer for the Brewton region.
Harrell credited others in the community with the success in public healthcare and related issues.
Harrell also credited her husband, Johnny Harrell, with her success. “He is my champion,” she said. “He has allowed me to be me.”
Together, the Harrells are active members of the Atmore Assembly of God. Harrell said a course in parish nursing seven years ago has allowed her to tie her faith to her passion for healthcare.
Harrell worked for 30 years for the Alabama Department of Public Health. She is a past president of the Alabama Public Health Association and a two-term past president of both the Alabama State Nurses’ Association and the nonprofit advocacy group VOICES for Alabama’s Children.
Harrell earned her B.S.N. degree from the Medical College of Georgia’s College of Nursing, and her master’s degree from UAB.
She began her career as a staff nurse in Conecuh County going on to become director of nursing for the Alabama Department of Public Health from 1987 to 1993. She served on many government task forces and committees studying issues from the nursing shortage to nurse practitioner networks. Harrell was inducted into the Alabama Nursing Hall of Fame in 2003.
At the national level, Harrell has served on a range of committees through the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association and other groups.