Editor's Note: This story was originally published in the Dothan Eagle's 2020 Progress edition in October.
Jeff Brannon became a nurse to take care of others.
He wasn’t expecting, or even looking, to work on the business side of healthcare as an administrator. And 35 years after starting his career at Dothan's Flowers Hospital, Brannon wasn’t expecting to get a call to come home.
“I’m a man of faith and believe that the good Lord knows my steps long before I do,” Brannon said. “Those things happened for a reason. I hope that I have everywhere that I’ve been made a mark, an impact … I don’t know how you can be a caregiver without having compassion and a servant heart for those who you get the privilege to take care of.”
Brannon was named Flowers Hospital’s CEO earlier this year, taking over the position in July.
Like other hospitals around the region and country, Flowers has faced an unprecedented year with the coronavirus pandemic. Brannon returned during a peak in cases at the hospital.
He started his first day as CEO on July 6 and didn’t go home until 10:30 that night.
“I think that day, we had 207 patients in the hospital when I left that day; I think we saw 169 patients in the emergency department,” Brannon said. “I said to the team ‘this is the Flowers I remember.’ …Coming back home is a very humbling experience for me both professionally and personally. I don’t take that lightly. I take it very seriously that I’ve been called to do a job that I’m thankful for the privilege to get to do.”
Dealing with COVID-19 has been a challenge for the hospital, but Brannon said the staff at the hospital stepped up to the plate and adapted to protect themselves and patients. Local government leaders – from Dothan’s mayor to the county commission to Emergency Management directors – have all been supportive of the local healthcare industry, Brannon said. While the number of COVID-19 patients has dropped, local hospitals are still treating patients and seeing new patients with the illness.
Brannon grew up in Hartford and still lives in the small Geneva County town in the very home where his grandparents once lived. He became a registered nurse in 1985. He already had a business degree and pursued a nursing degree from Wallace Community College after his experience helping care for his mother, who had numerous health issues and died at age 54. One of Brannon’s older brothers worked in the business side of healthcare and suggested he look at becoming a nurse as more and more men were going into the field.
He was working as a nurse manager in Flowers Hospital’s cardiovascular intensive care unit when he was given the opportunity to move into administration in 1989. Proud of his nursing training and his work as a bedside nurse, Brannon said the business side of the hospital opened his eyes. He was no longer responsible for just a single unit. Instead, he had to look at the overall health of the hospital.
“It was an eye-opening experience but one that I’m grateful for,” Brannon said. “I have been afforded the opportunity to grow and develop my own style but also never forget where I came from, and that’s pretty much, I think, been my career thus far.”
Brannon spent 13 years as vice president of clinical services at Flowers, overseeing clinical and ancillary departments within the hospital and managing medical staff development and physician recruitment. He went on to serve as CEO of Monroe County Hospital in Monroeville and Medical Center Enterprise in Enterprise. He was CEO of Wiregrass Medical Center and Nursing Home in Geneva when he accepted the CEO position with Flowers Hospital earlier this year.
He credits Flowers Hospital with the early opportunities he was given and considered former Flowers CEO Keith Granger a mentor.
When the announcement was made in June that Brannon would be the hospital’s new CEO, Granger – at the time the regional president of Flowers’ parent company Community Health Systems – said he was thrilled that Brannon chose to return to the hospital.
“He was known for his compassion, kindness, and unwavering responsiveness to our employees, patients, physicians and community,” Granger said at the time. “Flowers will see his passion for service, a value that has long been a part of the culture at Flowers and a value in which the hospital’s success has been rooted.”
For Flowers, Brannon said the future holds challenges and opportunities.
The hospital will continue to adapt to the “new normal” created by COVID-19. The pandemic opened the door for more use of distance technology with video conferencing to connect doctors and patients. And while technology will continue to advance healthcare, make surgeries less invasive and the patient experience more efficient, medicine is still a hands-on profession, Brannon said.
“We’re here to serve and we’re grateful for the privilege to do that, and we want to do it with every patient, every time and do it right,” Brannon said. “Hopefully, as we do that then we will be the (beneficiary) of continued support from the community using our facility and hopefully growth in numbers.”