To many employees, Russell E. Armistead, MBA, former CEO of UF Health Jacksonville, is just Russ. He greeted them in the hallways, during weekly rounds and when he got lunch in the cafeteria. He was at every organizational event celebrating successes, and often announced big changes — the most recent of which was his retirement, effective Dec. 31.
Armistead began his career as a certified public accountant and went on to become the Wake Forest School of Medicine vice president for health services administration. Next, he was named interim chief financial officer and CEO at the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo, Ohio. In 2004, he was recruited to UF Health in Gainesville, but we almost lost him to another opportunity.
Amid negotiations to take an administrative position at Augusta University, then known as Georgia Regents University, Armistead got a call the day after Christmas from David S. Guzick, MD, PhD, president of UF Health.
“He said, ‘Jim Burkhart just called me and resigned.’ He asked if I would consider being CEO here,” Armistead said.
He delayed the other job offer by a few days, but the board of directors had to move quickly to appoint Armistead. They did so six days later. “That was a Friday afternoon and I asked Dr. Guzick when he wanted me to start, and he said ‘Monday,’” Armistead laughed.
Beginning as CEO in January 2013, Armistead quickly set his goals for the organization. His first objective was to improve the patient experience.
“I wanted us to have a collegial, cooperative, friendly staff and for our patients to feel that we not only took care of their medical needs, but that this was a pleasant place to do it,” he said.
Today, all new hires undergo hospitality training as part of employee orientation, which emphasizes the importance of warmly greeting patients and wayfinding. Armistead himself made efforts to be approachable by getting out of his office and rounding, directly asking units what they needed and increasing organizational transparency through the “A Few Minutes with Russ” video series.