Dr. George Russell will serve as CEO of the University Physicians' physician practice starting July 1.
Dr. George Russell will serve as CEO of the University Physicians' physician practice starting July 1.
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UP physician practice at UMMC gains new leadership

Published on Monday, June 14, 2021

By: Ruth Cummins

For more than two decades, University of Mississippi Medical Center orthopaedic surgeon Dr. George Russell has restored thousands of Mississippians whose bones – and lives – were shattered through disease or traumatic injury.

The James L. Hughes Chair of Orthopaedic Surgery is adding yet another dimension to his surgical and leadership experience, which includes serving as chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation since 2013. Russell is stepping out of that role and transitioning to the position of chief executive officer of the University Physicians, the Medical Center’s faculty physician practice plan, effective July 1.

His new assignment is to oversee UP’s practice plan operations and finances, but it’s so much more than that for the hospitals, health system and academic departments whose providers treat the sickest of the sick and many of state’s most complex patients.

“I’ll help integrate the physician and provider practices with the institution and the hospitals,” said Russell, who joined the Medical Center faculty in 2000 as an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitation.  “We have 19 different departments, and it can be very hard to coordinate them on the institutional level.”

Taking over as interim chair of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation is Dr. Kellie Leitch, associate professor of orthopaedic and rehabilitation surgery and chief of pediatric orthopaedic surgery.

The creation of Russell’s new position isn’t meant to usurp the activities of department chairs, but instead to add consistency and alignment to provider practices. “This will allow for more efficient management, and ultimately, performance improvement,” Russell said.

Portrait of Dr. Alan Jones

“The physician practice is a large component of our health system,” said Dr. Alan Jones, professor of emergency medicine and associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs. “We want the ability to make sure we are leveraging all of our facilities and personnel in a way that positions UMMC for the best opportunities to be successful in the future, and to allow us to grow.”

About 730 physicians practice under University Physicians. Add to that other providers such as nurse practitioners, certified registered nurse anesthetists and more, and that number balloons to about 1,000.

More than 100 specialties are represented within University Physicians, which includes not just the Pavilion facility on campus, but dozens of locations in the Jackson metro area and statewide. UP providers also treat patients statewide through a network of telehealth locations.

Also, the School of Nursing and the School of Dentistry have components that are part of UP.

Russell will build on and enhance University Physicians’ broad strengths, which include a stellar group of chairs who are collegial and committed to leading exemplary patient care. “Our physicians have a tremendous commitment to our mission,” Russell said. “They are willing to take care of patients who have the most complex medical issues. They have a very cohesive group of chairs.”

Russell will work closely with chairs and physician practice groups to coordinate operations and set guidelines for best practices for all departments. That will allow UP to “have better alignment, more consistency across practice plans, and a better ability to evolve with health care that you find at a major academic medical center,” he said.

Christopher Anderson

The new leadership post “gives a more organized and uniform voice to the clinical faculty and the chairs,” said Dr. Christopher Anderson, professor and chair of the Department of Surgery and the James D. Hardy Chair of Surgery.

“It will allow us to speak and act more uniformly,” Anderson said. “This will result in more efficient interactions between the hospitals and the professional practices, and in more uniform standards of how we manage the ambulatory practices. It signifies the evolution of what started as the Council of Clinical Chairs to a very well-defined practice plan of leadership.”

A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Russell received his MD from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where he had a general surgery internship and residency training in orthopaedic surgery. He completed an orthopaedic trauma fellowship at the University of Washington/Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Russell served as an assistant professor and chief of orthopaedic trauma in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of South Alabama-Mobile before joining the Medical Center faculty. He earned promotion to associate professor in 2002 and became medical director of the department in 2009.

He obtained his executive MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, in 2012, then served as vice chair of the department for two years before being named chair. A three-time UMMC Department of Orthopaedic Surgery Professor of the Year, he was named the James L. Hughes Chair of Orthopaedic Surgery in 2014.

Russell is uniquely qualified for the new position, Anderson said.

“UMMC has been his career,” Anderson said. “He has a very good business acumen, and he’s well-trained, both medically and in the business world. He’s devoted to the (health system) organization and to the physician practices organization, and he as much as anyone wants the professional organization to succeed, both clinically and academically,”

Russell’s experience as a department chair allowed him to build personal relationships with both chairs and administrative staff, Jones said. “He understands the facilities, and he has a lot of knowledge about operations,” he said. “He will need less time to acclimate and can get started quicker in realizing some of the goals we have for the physician practice.”

Those goals are part of UMMC’s new strategic plan. “It’s really important, as we enter into this plan, that we are efficient and addressing any opportunities along the way so that we are positioned for continued success,” Jones said.

Portrait of Dr. Kellie Leitch

Leitch will oversee a department with the state’s only Level I Orthopaedic Trauma Center and only Orthopaedic Oncology Program. It serves patients statewide at four clinical practice locations – the UP Pavilion, Merit Madison, the University Rehabilitation Center and Grants Ferry – as well as pediatric patients at outreach locations in Tupelo, Meridian and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Leitch joined the UMMC faculty in 2019 and received Orthopaedic Surgery’s 2020 Ronald J. Kendig Professor of the Year Award. She earned her MBA at Dalhousie University and her MD from the University of Toronto. She had residency training at the University of Toronto and fellowship training in pediatric orthopaedic surgery at the University of Southern California Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. 

She was selected as an American Orthopaedics Association/Japanese Orthopaedics Association traveling fellow in orthopaedics and completed a pediatric orthopaedic surgery/limb deformity reconstruction fellowship at the Paley Institute.

An associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto since 2009, Leitch was a member of the Parliament of Canada from 2011 to 2019 and served in various roles in the Canadian government, including as Minister of Labour and Minister of the Status of Women.

Under Russell’s leadership, UP is poised to shine as “a physician practice that is meeting the needs of our market and our patients,” Jones said.

And that, he said, will allow the hospitals and health system to deliver care statewide “that only UMMC can provide.”