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Her ‘heart was in tune’

Well-known healthcare advocate passes away

Ruth Harrell’s heart was tuned to helping people, friends in the healthcare industry said.

Harrell, 81, passed away on Fri., Dec. 31, 2020, at her home in Flomaton.

Harrell had an accomplished career in the healthcare industry. She was appointed to the Escambia County Healthcare Authority in 1995 to represent District 3 of Esacmbia County, Ala. She served on the board as an active member for more than 25 years, according to Escambia County Healthcare Authority officials.

She served as chairwoman of the ECHA from 2012-2018, and was instrumental in the early affiliation relationship with Baptist Healthcare of Pensacola, Fla., which began in 1995.

Her other accomplishments included establishing the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County; creating the Wheels of Wellness Program under the Coalition umbrella, which which provides non-emergency transports to pediatric patients and expected mothers in the county; and in 2018 helped create, along with the ECHA, a rural independent healthcare system under the ECHA to include D.W. McMillan Memorial Hospital, Atmore Community Hospital, D.W. McMillan EMS, D.W. McMillan Home Medical Equipment, Flomaton Medical Center, D.W. McMillan Home Health, Atmore Home Care, D.W. McMillan After Hours Clinic, ACH Primary Care, ACH Family Care and ACH MedPlus, to name a few.

“Ruth has always been high energy, driven, determined and tireless in her efforts to work on behalf of the healthcare needs of the citizens of Escambia County, her impact on our county is unquantifiable,” ECHA CEO and Secretary Chris Griffin said. “Ruth’s passing leaves us with a significant void on the Escambia County Healthcare Authority Board, as well as Escambia County.”

Griffin said Harrell was a mentor and great friend to him since he joined the organization in 2003.

“She has always been supportive, encouraging, straight forward and completely honest in our relationship, even when we might disagree on the matter at hand,” he said. “Ruth has been there for me when I have needed her and has helped me navigate through the many rural healthcare storms that have popped up over the years. I will truly miss Ruth and our friendship.”

ECHA Chairwoman Debbie Rowell said Harrell’s contributions to the board and to all citizens of the county will be missed.

While Harrell’s presence will be missed by many in the county, her legacy will live on elsewhere in the state.

Dr. Wil Baker, executive director of Alabama Medical Education Consortium (AMEC) in Robertsdale, said Harrell had the heart of a nurse from the beginning, and has served so well that mission.

“I have known Ruth for many years,” Baker said. “I’ve been privileged to know her for a long period of time. I worked with her for many years when she was the head nurse for Alabama Public Health (in Nursing), and then when she worked with the Alabama Medical Education Consortium, the entity that developed the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM) (in Dothan).”

Baker said Harrell’s heart was in line with helping people.

“If you use the words, she was very compassionate, loving, caring, all of those words describe Ruth,” he said.

Baker said with AMEC, Harrell served as administrative director and the two of them  worked together to develop a medical school without walls, and another with walls (ACOM) that is still flourishing.

Baker said ACOM just graduated its fourth class, and of the students who have graduated, 99.1 percent have gotten into the best of the best residency programs in the state and country.

Baker said Harrell helped lay the foundation for better access to medical care in the state, and was well thought of by many in the state.

Lee Timberlake, AMEC’s financial officer, said Harrell had a wealth of knowledge and helped build the foundation that’s still used today at the consortium.

Baker said Harrell was well connected throughout the entire state in healthcare. He said she had such great compassion for people.

Griffin said Harrell worked with Phillip Parker and himself on developing the Brewton hospital into a site for medical students rotations.

“This ultimately became a relationship with the medical school in Dothan (ACOM) and McMillan is continuing to be a core site and host about three students a semester,” Griffin said. “I’m not sure this would have ever happened for us without the determination of Mrs. Harrell.”

Harrell is survived by her husband of 60 years, Johnny Harrell of Flomaton; brother, Bob Traweek of Houston, Texas; sister, Joe (David) Nolin of Flomaton; niece, JoLynn Gordon Godwin of Atmore; nephew, Dave (Regina) Nolin of Flomaton; and great nephew, Nolin Godwin of Atmore.

See page 5A for Harrell’s complete obituary.