January 12, 2024
Culinary Director Judy Fussell’s Inspiring 41 Year Tenure at South Arkansas Regional Hospital
Judy Fussell’s career began unassumingly, washing dishes in a small hospital at the young age of 20. Her love for food service was ignited, leading her to a role as an aide where she developed a deep connection with patients. This initial spark transformed into a lifelong passion, driving her through various roles, including a significant stint at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, enriching her experience with valuable lessons in care and compassion.
For the past 41 years, Judy has been a constant fixture at South Arkansas Regional Hospital (SARH) in the small community of El Dorado, Arkansas. And for 37 of those years, she has acted as director of the culinary department. When she finally decided to retire, hospital leadership couldn’t imagine what they would do without her. This was the catalyst that led them, ultimately, to contract HHS for all of their food service needs.
Fortunately for HHS, retirement didn’t suit Judy very well. After just 30 days, she returned to her post and officially became an HHS culinary director. Though Judy is steadfast and committed to her community, her tenure hasn't been without drastic changes and transitions over the years. She admits that at first, transitioning to HHS was challenging, saying, “I’m not going to lie, it was hard. I had done it my way all these years.”
Throughout Judy’s career, she has faced many personal challenges, from losing her first husband at a young age, raising her children on her own while balancing family and career, and then losing her second husband just a month after transitioning her role to HHS. It was the way that HHS supported her through her second husband’s health struggles and passing that won her over. Despite these personal tragedies Judy’s resilience has never wavered.
The most recent change she has led her team through has been the hospital’s transition from a for-profit to a nonprofit organization. This has brought new challenges and opportunities alike. Judy has embraced these at every step, driven by her love for the job and the community she serves.
Throughout both the transition to HHS and now this transition at SARH, Judy humbly embraced the opportunity to learn and grow every day. When asked what she was the most proud of over her career, Judy replied, “I think I'm just proud of how I've grown and [that] I still want to learn something new every day. You’re never too old to learn.”
Her leadership style, grounded in empathy and an open-door policy, has fostered a culture of trust and mutual respect among her team. Having held every position in healthcare food service at one point in her life, she naturally leads by example. She maintains an active presence in the kitchen, working alongside her team in various capacities. This hands-on approach has earned her the affectionate nickname 'Mom' among her team members, a testament to her nurturing and inclusive leadership style.
South Arkansas Regional Hospital recently featured Judy as their monthly employee highlight because of the impact she has had on her team, the hospital, and the community at large. Judy has enthusiastically embraced the nonprofit organization’s mission, remarking, “I have high hopes for the continued progress there has been so far since this transition, and I look forward to a positive future."
As she looks towards retirement again, Judy reflects on her tenure with a sense of fulfillment, though she’s reluctant to say when exactly she might take that step. Her advice to others at HHS and in the food service industry is, “Don’t give up. Every day’s not good… but if you have your heart set on being in food service and taking care of your patients and guests, then never give up on it. And continue to grow…and believe in what you do.” simple yet profound: never give up, continue to grow, and believe in the work you do.”
One thing is true for sure, Judy has never given up on her family, her team, her colleagues, her patients, or her community throughout her career. It is the people who drive her and continue to do so; what a legacy to leave behind.
Tag(s): Team Member Stories