Bob Pannell is the director for Florida’s Office of Rural Health where he coordinates activities, programs, and funding to assist rural hospitals, rural health networks, rural county health departments, rural emergency medical services, rural communities, and other partners to maintain and improve access to high quality health care services. Bob has worked in the Florida Office of Rural Health since 2001 when he moved from Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration. He has over 38 years of experience in health care. Bob serves as a Board member of the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health, the Florida Association of Rural Emergency Medical Services Providers, and the Florida Rural Health Association. He is the father of three sons and resides in Tallahassee, Florida with his wife of 41 years.
As you approach retirement, what is some parting wisdom you want to share with other SORHs?
It is important that you find good partners and make sure you cultivate the relationships. You need to be honest with them and keep in touch. The QIO has been a great partner for us. We have implemented several great projects with them throughout the years. I am most proud of the Patient Medication Safety program that has received national recognition and was duplicated in North Carolina. It is also important to have a great relationship with your Critical Access Hospitals. We are currently working on MBQIP with them and rely on our strong relationships with them to implement new programs.
What is one characteristic every SORH leader should possess?
In this ever-changing health care environment, it is important to have a good sense of humor. Sometimes working in state government can be frustrating, especially when you need to implement federal changes that don’t always coincide with state policy. You need to learn how to rely on your partners to help you get things accomplished and sometimes you just need to be able to laugh about it.
What will you miss most when you retire?
This is the best job that I have ever had in the 38 years of working in the health care field. People in rural areas are very appreciative of what you do and it is nice to feel needed. I will miss the great relationship I have developed in the state as well as those in other SORHs. Lisa Davis, Graham Adams and Serge Dihoff have all been great mentors.
What are the biggest challenges facing your successor?
Medicaid Managed Care was just reinstituted in Florida. This happened in the early 90s and failed miserably because of reimbursement issues and paper work. Some hospitals went for months without reimbursement. It looks like this might happen again. The changing environment for rural hospitals including reimbursement and a larger focus on prevention and outcomes are more difficult for smaller hospitals to adjust unless they are already affiliated with a larger hospital. We are trying to help with grants to provide patient satisfaction reporting, but more will need to be done with fewer resources. We only have 2 staff in our office and the Flex Coordinator is retiring shortly after I do. Our office will have a clean slate and I hope they will take advantage of NOSORH mentoring resources to help them.
With its leaking roof, numerous building code violations and lack of modern technology, everyone agreed that Madison County Florida’s 60 year old hospital desperately needed to be replaced. Thanks to a sales tax referendum passed by Madison County residents, and financial assistance from Florida’s State Office of Rural Health, the brand new, state-of-the-art Madison County Memorial Hospital is proof of what can be achieved when residents and local and state officials work together.
“Florida only has 13 Critical Access Hospitals, so we can give them more personal attention and provide funds to entice them to modernize their facility and adopt new technology,” said Florida SORH Director Bob Pannell. When the new hospital was still in the development stage, the Florida State Office provided a $24,000 grant to educate the community on the need for and benefits of building a new hospital. They also provided more than $500,000 in state and federal grants to the facility since 2005 for capital, quality, and financial performance improvements, assisted the hospital with obtaining a $450,000 rural community development loan from the Governor’s Rural Economic Development Initiative Program, and a $22.54 million rural community facility loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The new Madison County Memorial Hospital opened in August, a welcome addition to one of Florida’s poorest counties. “The new facility gives residents access to the latest standard of care, something the old hospital couldn’t do,” Pannell said. “It’s about twice as big as the old one, and fully modernized with the latest technology. The inpatient rooms are designed to feel like family rooms and are large enough for family members to spend the night. The whole design is a family centered concept.”
Pannell said the new facility will also be used for training student nurses, and is tied-in with a larger economic development plan to bring in new jobs and businesses to the area. “It’s great to be able to help a community that has really been struggling to get something they really need,” he said. “This is the best job I’ve ever had in my 40 year career in healthcare.”
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