Michael J. Farley spent 30 years addressing issues and problems in health care communities nationwide. Now, he brings that experience to the Martinsville-Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness as its new executive director.
He assumed the position Sept. 1, succeeding Barbara Jackman, who has retired. She had been the executive director since the organization began in 2005.
Farley praised Jackman for her “vision and extraordinary leadership.” The coalition now will “take Barbara’s good work and move it forward,” he added.
The coalition’s mission, according to its website, is to provide medical and primary health services at its health centers and to promote health, reduce health risk factors and increase access to medical services, primarily for uninsured and underserved area residents, through a variety of other programs.
THE ROAD HERE
Farley moved here from Comanche, Texas, where he was on the hospital senior executive team and managed a rural health clinic and series of outpatient specialty clinics. He also was chairman of the service excellence committee.
He originally is from Tuscaloosa, Ala. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama in 1984 and the next year he became the chief executive officer of a hospital in Ridgeland, S.C. In 1989, he earned an MBA from Valdosta State University.
But his focus in the health care field changed.
“I woke up one day and God spoke to me and said, ‘You’re not fulfilling the mission in your vocation that I want you to do,’” Farley said.
That mission was to work with physician practices rather than in hospital administration, he said. Practices have smaller offices and staffs than hospitals so they provide more opportunities to work directly with people and build relationships, he added.
Rather than work in one permanent site, Farley worked as an independent contractor in consulting and interim administrative roles throughout the country. The longest he stayed in one place was two years, he said, explaining that he would go to an area, identify its issues and build a team to tackle them. He then would work with the team to create an action plan to fix the problems and put that plan into place.
“Issues” could be things such as the possibility that someone was skimming money from a practice; a hospital that wanted to buy a practice and Farley would broker the deal; or a health care provider who was not as productive as possible and needed help with time management.
The work was rewarding, he said, but after 30 years at it, change was in store when he met “the love of my life” at a professional conference, Farley said. They later became engaged and wanted to settle near her lifelong home in Greenville, S.C. When Farley, who was living in Texas at the time, saw an advertisement for the coalition directorship in Martinsville, he pursued it.
He and his fiancée came here for four days of interviews and tours and fell in love with the area, Farley said. They liked the coalition, the people they met and the area itself, and they knew they wanted to build a life here, he said.
That has begun already, with Farley hoping to buy a farm where he may raise buffalo and his future wife will raise pygmy goats. When he isn’t working, he enjoys hunting, fishing, University of Alabama football and especially gardening. He also has learned to train hummingbirds to sit on his finger while at a bird feeder.
He explains his love for the outdoors this way: “We get a defined period of time on earth but we only get to see some of it, but what we do see we should appreciate.”
ON THE JOB
Farley describes himself as a “fixer, a problem solver.” And while the coalition director job combines aspects of all of his previous experiences, he said it differs in that it is a permanent position.
“The key to this job is relationship building and maintaining. There will be times when we don’t all see eye to eye but we have to find a solution and move on,” he said.
To build those relationships, he spent his first three weeks on the job meeting the 56 people who work at the coalition’s Bassett Family Practice, Ridgeway Family Health, Health Connect Center in uptown Martinsville and its offices uptown. He also has been discussing the coalition’s future with its board committees; meeting with the staff of the Harvest Foundation, which helps fund the coalition; participating in the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce leadership training program; and trying to meet as many different groups of people as possible.
It has been a positive experience, Farley said. “… It’s all about leadership and growth,” he added, citing the recent announcement that Monogram Food Solutions is expanding for the fifth time as an example of the good news occurring here.
A target area for the coalition is recruiting good quality doctors and nurse practitioners to its health centers, which benefits the entire community, Farley said.
“This community has got a lot to offer,” he said. On recruiting, he added, “I’ve been doing it for 30 years; I enjoy recruiting and have a proven track record in the process.”
Recruiting involves the entire Coalition team, the local community, the hospital and many other community groups, he said.
His goal would be to build trust with prospective providers and show the community cares. “We’re not just getting them here and then we’re gone,” he added.
The coalition also needs to “think out of the box and look at additional service lines that we can bring into the clinics,” Farley said.
For instance, he is on the drug-free task force and noted that at his first meeting, Martinsville Police Chief Eddie Cassady said there were 13 drug overdoses in one day resulting in three deaths locally.
The Coalition’s role in the opioid epidemic is to educate the public about the signs and symptoms of the opioid problems and “to expand our behavioral health line so it can help accommodate more people into our clinics,” Farley said. Our organization recently received federal grant funding to help educate and treat persons with addiction to opioids and other substances.
To help do that, the coalition recently learned it has been awarded a grant to hire a mental health nurse practitioner, he said.
He also would like to see the coalition have outreach services in the schools to be available to students and help with issues such as depression and suicide.
The outreach efforts and other work of the coalition’s Health Connect Center are one area that is new to Farley.
“They (Health Connect staff) drive our community outreach programs,” going to health fairs, farmers markets, libraries and other locations to help people get needed health care services such as needed blood or lab work and examinations. The staff can help people get financial assistance with medications and local uninsured women to get mammograms and other diagnostic tests through Susan G. Komen Virginia Blue Ridge.
“For me, it is an honor to be a member of the community and I cherish each member of the Coalition family,” Farley said.