Baptist Union County administrative director retires after 50 years of service

Sometimes, you have to leave home to find the world.

And sometimes, you discover that the world you were looking for really is in your own backyard—and you have the power to make it even better.

When Barbara Owens, retiring administrative director for Baptist Union County was a teenager in New Albany, Miss., she first thought she wanted to leave small-town living and see what else was out there. So she enrolled in stewardess school.

But when she stepped off her first flight in Nevada, she knew: New Albany was where she belonged, and she quickly returned—a true blessing for what has become a nationally recognized hospital and a grateful community.

“I called my mother and said, ‘I’m coming back, this is where God wants me,’” said Barbara. “And it’s funny because ever since our hospital (formerly Union County General Hospital) became affiliated with Baptist Memorial Health Care, I’ve truly had the best of both worlds: exciting opportunities and the small town atmosphere I love.”

This November, she retires with 50 years of service at Baptist Union County. It’s hard to fully describe the tremendous impact she has had on the lives of those she’s worked with and the patients who have walked through the doors.

“The hole she leaves will be huge,” says Baptist Union County risk manager Mary Foley, who has worked with Barbara for 44 years. “She has influenced every department, the physicians, and the patients. She’s mentored countless interns and encouraged them to pursue their careers. She literally molded the culture of our hospital.”

That culture—excellent care focused on patient and family—has led to Baptist Union County being consistently recognized as one of the nation’s finest.

Team members will tell you that Barbara played a significant role in this achievement, as well as in successfully coordinating Joint Commission Surveys since 1988.

“Barbara assimilated all the necessary records and information to help ensure that our hospital met the standards of performance,” said Mary. “She can speak the language of everybody. She communicates smoothly with physicians and staff from every department, which is how she’s learned so much over the years.”

Barbara’s experience at the hospital is as varied as the flowers she hopes to spend more time planting in her retirement.

Her mother, Ruby Burks, was a nurse at the Union County General Hospital when Barbara began working there as a ward secretary at the age of 16. Barbara then shifted to medical records (now health information management). While in that department, she achieved her certification in health information management and became director, overseeing the transition from paper records to 100 percent electronic and seeing the department grow from two to 21 staff members. But she didn’t stop there.

Barbara helped the hospital begin its Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reimbursement programs and quality assurance program. She was named administrative director, working with health information management and case management, and coordinating the quality and regulatory agencies as well as compliance. She also worked with radiology, laboratory and pharmacy departments, established a hospitalist program, mentored young people, and coordinated submissions for Joint Commission surveys and awards programs.

Perhaps just as importantly, she did it all while serving as cheerleader, motivator, and good friend to those around her.

“She doesn’t like the limelight,” said coworkers Gina Veal and Janet Flake. “She is very humble, and prefers to go to bat for you. She is someone who makes you want to do your best.”

Fifty years is an impressive amount of time for any profession. What made her want to come to work every day? Barbara says it was because she knew she could make a difference, both in the hospital, and in the community. “I love living in New Albany and how it all feels like family, and I also love that right here, in our town, you can receive evidence-based care just as you would in a much larger hospital in New York or another big city.”

It’s truly been a family affair. Her mother, Ruby Burks, was a nurse. Granddaughter Savannah will graduate from Baptist Health Sciences University with a degree in nursing. Daughter Kellie works in radiology. (Daughter Vicki is not in the medical field but is just as passionate about her work.) And husband Benny of 46 years has supported Barbara “with love and patience” and understanding that the hospital has been her second family.

Now there will be more time for family, reading, and activities at Center Baptist Church. It’s sad to leave, but Barbara looks back with satisfaction and ahead with excitement.

“The employees and physicians of this hospital have surrounded me with love and support during my time here. I’m so privileged to have been a part of it all, and I know it will just keep going. In fact, what I want most is for everyone at Baptist Union County to realize how knowledgeable and important they all are, and just continue to make it even better.

“The best tribute for me would be that no one could tell I’m gone.”