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Harrell had impact on health across county

Escambia County lost a soldier in the field of medicine last week with the death of Ruth Harrell.

Harrell passed away Dec. 31, 2020 at the age of 81 at her home in Flomaton.

Through her life, Harrell was known as advocate for improved healthcare where ever she went having been a presence with the Escambia County Healthcare Authority.

Current ECHA CEO Chris Griffin said that Harrell’s death will leave a hole in the healthcare community family.

“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.”

Debbie Rowell, who serves as the chairwoman of the ECHA board, said contributions to the board made by Harrell to benefit the county’s citizens will be greatly missed.

“What a fine Christian lady she was,” Rowell said. “Her contributions to our board and to all citizens of Escambia County in regard to healthcare will be greatly missed.”

In her time as a nurse Harrell had many accomplishments but will long be remembered in the region as an advocate for proper healthcare for all.

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.

Among her accomplishments:

She was appointed to the Escambia County healthcare Authority in 1995 to represent District Three of Escambia County. She served as an active member of the board for over 25 years serving as chairwoman of the authority from 2012 to 2018;

She was instrumental in the early affiliation relationship with Baptist Healthcare in Pensacola, Fla., which kicked off in 1995, with D.W. McMillan and Atmore Community Hospitals both entering an affiliation arrangement with Baptist Healthcare in 1995, when the general feeling was that managed care was going to be a way of the world and to survive rural hospitals needed to align with larger healthcare providers;

She established the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County and held monthly meetings of the organization rotating between Atmore and Brewton. The coalition is a cross-section of leaders throughout the county who came together to facilitate activities to improve the health of the citizens of the county. She served as chairwoman of the organization since it was established.

She, along with board members Bernie Wall and Candy McDaniel, provided leadership in working with Baptist Healthcare in 2005 to unaffiliated D.W. McMillan Memorial Hospital from Baptist Healthcare and establish McMillan as an independent rural hospital;

Under her leadership, the Wheels of Wellness Program was created under the umbrella of the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County and the Escambia County healthcare Authority. The WOW program kicked off in 2006 and provided needed non-emergency transports to pediatric patients and expectant mothers in the county;

She, along with other ECHCA board members, had a vision in 2018 to create a rural independent healthcare system under the ECHCA to include D.W. McMillan Memorial Hospital, Atmore Community Hospital, D.W. McMillan EMS and Home Medical Equipment, Flomaton Medical Center, D.W. McMillan Home Health and After Hours Clinic, Atmore Home Care, ACH Primary Care and Family Care and Medplus.

In the information provided in her obituary, she was a native of Owassa and a life-long member of the Flomaton community. She was a nurse for 60 years and was community minded.

She was a member of the Flomaton Lion’s Club, Escambia County Healthcare Authority, Nursing Hall of Fame at the University of Alabama, and was on the board of D.W. McMillan Memorial Hospital. She had been the Director of Alabama Public Health for Nursing in Montgomery and received numerous state, local and national awards for her service to her community and caring for others. She was a member of the Assembly of God Church in Atmore.

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

Services for Harrell will be held at a later date.

Andrew Garner with The Atmore Advance contributed to this story.