The Ben and Luanne Russell donation to Russell Medical will not only help provide care for area residents, it will help grow it as well.

The $25 million donation for a geriatric center, assisted living facility and independent living cottages at Russell Medical along with the endowed chair for geriatrics at UAB, will grow Russell Medical and Tallapoosa County for years to come.

Seeing the vision for a geriatric center in the works for more than a decade, Russell Medical CEO Jim Peace is still beside himself after last week’s news of the historical donation to cement the legacy of the hospital and the Russell family.

“I can’t say enough, there are not words to express the appreciation for what Mr. Ben and Mrs. Luanne have done with this very generous contribution on our campus,” Peace said. “I know Mr. Ben has always talked about making certain his grandfather was recognized in what he did to lay the foundation, not just in one area of this community but across this community. This hospital is certainly no different.”

Peace said the first hospital in Alexander City was thanks to the Russell family.

“Our first hospital in this city was at Russell Corporation,” Peace said. “It was a department of Russell. It evolved to where we are today because of the need to grow. What a joy for us to display that name on the side of a building that represents that history and use that name to help us grow this multi-speciality clinic that will house a geriatrician, a geriatrician that is endowed by part of these funds through UAB’s endowment program.”

The large donation is special among rural Alabama hospitals.

“We have stated we think we are the only rural hospital that has ever received a gift of this magnitude,” Peace said. “It is certainly the largest gift our hospital has ever received in the history of our hospital.”

What the donation creates could put Alexander City on the map of healthcare similar to other programs across the country offering cancer or orthopedic care.

“I could certainly see that being the case,” Peace said. “Our plan though is not to put Alex City on the map as a geritraic center in a rural community but if it happened we certainly would not be opposed to it by any means.”

Improving healthcare is an important component in recruiting industry to the area according to Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance executive director Chad Odom.

“Russell Medical has long been an asset to Lake Martin Area EDA’s marketing for our business and industrial attraction efforts,” Odom said. “This announcement and the implementation of their vision will further improve our impressive medical care piece within those efforts.”

Alexander City Mayor Woody Baird said the momentous donation shows the commitment of the Russell family to the families who have worked for Russell Corporation over the decades.

“The gift by the Russell Family proves their commitment to caring for the residents of this area,” Baird said. “This gift will impact the area and the people here for generations to come.”

Peace said Russell has been on the board of Russell Medical for years including Peace’s 14 years at Russell Medical. Peace said Russell has always been a key member looking to the future of the hospital and the citizens of the area.

A key partnership with UAB in the past few years was also crucial in the development of the geriatric center.

“I think that relationship just solidified the master site planning thoughts as we began to talk about the future for our campus,” Peace said. “When UAB came to the table, we began talking about how we could bring this forward.”

UAB Health System CEO Dr. Will Ferniany has family in the Alexander City area and has a home on Lake Martin. The Russell Medical and UAB partnership meant senior leadership at UAB would be working with senior leadership at Russell Medical.

“They have seats on our board,” Peace said. “They are at our board meetings; they are at our committee meetings.”

UAB’s Ferniany is one of those board members at Russell Medical along with Ben Russell.

Peace said the developing relationship between Russell and Ferniany helped make the center come to life on the Russell Medical campus.

Part of the donation will be used to create an endowment.

“Those endowment dollars are used for the work and research they do, not their compensation of pay,” Peace said. “It is strictly for their research as an endowed chair with division of geritricatics at UAB.

Peace said UAB only has 12 geriatricians on staff and there are only 6,400 across the nation, making the geriatrician at Russell Medical unique in a rural setting.

“Based on the conversations I have had with the department at UAB, I don’t believe there is another rural hospital that has this,” Peace said.

Peace said a geriatrician is another option in healthcare for seniors.

“It doesn’t take away from the care of their primary care physician,” Peace said. “It doesn’t take away from the internist. It doesn’t take away from the needs of a urologist or cardiologist, but it does give this population a chance to have a specialist that cares for seniors.”

The next steps require establishing the endowed chair with an application process at UAB that both Russell Medical and the Russell family will participate in.

“Once that process is through its initiation then we can begin that campaign,” Peace said. “We will be working with the division chair (at UAB) to identify this person we would be recruiting to come here. I think we will have a fair number of people with interests in the position because of where we are and the other part is the relationship we have with UAB and certainly for the endowed chair, it just solidifies that interest.”

The geriatric center and the senior living facilities are the first of four phases of planned growth over future decades. The Russell donation means conversations about Phases 2, 3 and 4 can start and maybe come to fruition down the road.

“This Phase I would never be possible without Mr. and Mrs. Russell,” Peace said. “Hands down, it would be an impossibility; certainly not now, I’m not saying it wouldn’t be possible down the road.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.