When Gayle married a young physician in 1964, she did not dream that one day she would become a noted patient advocate and leader in healthcare policy. It began very simply when James opened his medical practice in Stuart in July 1971. Gayle assisted him in setting up his new office, buying equipment, hiring staff and even sewing the curtains for the waiting room. She became the Business Manager/Administrator of the practice in 1985 and later established the Breast Imaging Center, Inc. to provide high quality, low cost mammograms to women on the Treasure Coast.
Gayle has been an advocate for patient’s rights since those early days of opening the practice. She began by assisting patients and caring for family members who have found themselves tangled in the red tape created by both the government and the insurance industry. When she saw how complex the system was, she began working with the Florida Medical Association to advocate for patients. As Chair of three different healthcare committees over 12 years in the Florida Legislature, Gayle has been an outstanding leader working to solve the problems people face while dealing with their own health problems and the complex, bureaucratic healthcare system.
Medicare Mammogram Screening
As the administrator of the large gynecological practice, Gayle saw first-hand the benefits of preventative medicine and the early detection of breast cancer. It became very evident to her that a large number of senior women who were diagnosed with breast cancer had not gotten a screening mammogram because Medicare did not pay for it. They faced surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and the very real possibility of death. Had they been diagnosed earlier as a result of a screening mammogram, they would have had a much greater chance of survival. Gayle worked diligently with members of Congress and traveled to Washington, D.C. to encourage Medicare to recognize the value of prevention and cover screening mammograms.
The Francis Langford Heart Center
When her husband, James, suffered a heart attack and had to be transported to Palm Beach Gardens to have open heart by-pass surgery, Gayle recognized the difficulties many patients faced due to the lack of open heart surgery facilities in Martin County. As State Representative, she fought for over four years to bring open heart surgery to Martin County. One of her proudest moments as a State Representative was when Governor Jeb Bush came to Martin County to sign HB 329 which enabled Martin Memorial Hospital to have an Open Heart Center and permitted new beds for St. Lucie hospitals.
Cancer Drug Donation Program
When Gayle’s long time secretary, was going through chemotherapy to treat her cancer, Gayle was distressed to see how much very expensive medication had to be literally “flushed” down the toilet when her therapy changed and later when she passed away. Not only was this a waste of very expensive medication, but it very bad for the environment. Gayle passed the Cancer Drug Donation bill to permit the donation of unused cancer medications so that cancer patients who do not have insurance can get needed medications for free.
As a legislator she has received numerous awards for her work in transforming our healthcare system. Gayle is extremely proud to have received the Legislator of the Year Award from the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association in 2008. She received the Belle Chenault Award in 1999 from the Florida Medical Association for political activity on the behalf of patients and the medical community. She and James were recognized in 2002 with the V.A. Marks Lifetime Achievement Award by the Florida Medical Association for their hard work in furthering patient’s rights.
Health Information Technology Leader
In addition, Harrell is a nationally recognized leader in Health Information Technology and was appointed by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to the national Health Information Technology Policy Committee as established under ARRA 2009 (Stimulus Bill). As a part of the Policy Committee she also was appointed to serve on the Health Information Exchange Work Group and the Privacy and Security Tiger Team. In addition, she was one of four legislators nationally to serve on the National Governor’s Association State Alliance for e-Health. She also serves on the Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Healthcare Reform Committee. She was recognized as National Legislator of the Year by HIMSS in 2012. Over 32,000 participants attended the meeting in Orlando.