*The interview for this story took place before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was always the one who got that dreaded comment on report cards about how I was capable of more if I would just apply myself,” recalls Russell F. Cox, president and chief executive officer of Norton Healthcare.
Fortunately for Norton Healthcare and for Louisville, Cox applies himself in beneficial ways.
“I am passionate about education and giving back to the community,” he says.
Louisville has always been Cox’s community. He was born in Pineville, Kentucky, and grew up in Woodlawn Park in St. Matthews as the youngest of three children.
“I am the baby of my family, so my brother and sister raised me along with my parents,” Cox says. “They were, and still are, incredible role models for me.”
He is married to Kathy Ulmer Cox and has three sons, Russ Jr., Christian and Will.
Cox currently serves on various nonprofit and volunteer boards, including the Bellarmine University Board of Trustees as vice chair, the Kentucky Chamber Board of Trustees, the Greater Louisville Inc. Board of Trustees executive committee, and the WDRB editorial board. He previously served on the Downtown Development Corporation board as treasurer and executive committee member, and the Kentucky Country Day School Board of Trustees. He is a past chair of the Leadership Louisville board.
Cox was awarded the “Man Enough to Be a Girl Scout” award for encouraging girls to use their power to change the world. Last year he was named one of the 25 Most Admired Chief Executive Officers in the Louisville area by Louisville Business First, and he was recently inducted into the Junior Achievement Kentuckiana Business Hall of Fame.
Cox also gives back to the Louisville community through his leadership at Norton Healthcare. According to Cox, in 2018 Norton Healthcare provided more than $168 million in community benefits through charitable giving, educational support and support services.
Norton Healthcare leaders announced
in the fall of 2019 that they will contribute $5 million to build a multi-use sports and learning complex in West Louisville. The facility will officially be named the Norton Sports Health Athletics & Learning Complex. The health care system also opened a medical practice location in the West Louisville YMCA in December of 2019.
Cox’s business acumen, coupled with his compassion and commitment, equips him to lead with a personal touch. He has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from the University of Louisville’s College of Education and Human Development. He also attended the Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management in Nashville, and completed the requirements for certification from its Executive Development Institute.
Cox began the role of president and chief executive officer of Norton Healthcare on January 1, 2017. He joined Norton Healthcare as vice president of support services in September of 2000. Cox transitioned to other roles including senior vice president of operations and development in October of 2002, executive vice president in September of 2004, and executive vice president and chief operating officer in September of 2005.
Before joining Norton Healthcare, Cox spent six years as executive director of resource operations at Caritas Health Services in Louisville. Prior to that position, he worked for Humana Inc., Galen Healthcare Solutions and Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation in various executive roles.
Cox started his career as a middle school teacher in the Oldham County school system and still feels like he is a teacher at heart. He was asked to help the University of Louisville J.B. Speed School of Engineering work with students seeking placement in their cooperative education programs. As a result of placing many computer science students at Humana’s corporate office, he was asked to join their human resources department, and from there his career in health care took off.
When he is not serving or helping others serve, Cox takes time out to exercise, listen to music from the 1970s through 1990s, travel, and watch sports as well as the game show “Jeopardy” with his family. His latest hobby is training his Vizsla puppy, Maggie.
“My passion has always been about creating an environment where you look forward to coming to work,” Cox says. “I love the idea that we can foster a work environment where we come together for the sole benefit of the patient and family. When I hear that people have issues accessing care at Norton Healthcare, I want to help create a better experience.”
Saturday colonoscopy appointments were started after he learned of a patient’s scheduling frustrations.
“Patients have a choice in where they seek medical care, and health care organizations must evolve to meet consumer expectations,” Cox says. “I strive to be approachable, non-hierarchical, engaged, visible and, most importantly, empathetic – to our patients, their families and to the Norton Healthcare family.”
Cox says his greatest strength is being present.
“I am present to the patients, families and employees of Norton Healthcare, and engage in the life of the organization on every level,” he says. “I routinely visit our hospitals and practices to visit with patients and employees during day, evening and weekend shifts. I personally respond to emails and phone calls and treat everyone with respect, empathy and compassion.”
Cox adds that equity, inclusion and a sense of belonging among Norton Healthcare employees is vital to the success of the organization.
“We have established employee resource groups that focus on the needs of employees and patients who are LGBTQ, Latino, disabled, African American, women and veterans,” he says.
For Cox, the best thing about his job is helping to meet a need.
“The opportunity to help meet the health care needs and assist with the health and well-being of individuals and the community as a whole, is one of the most rewarding aspects of my position,” he says. “Norton Healthcare is not just a place to seek treatment when you are ill – we help people stay healthy, obtain better health outcomes and live a better life.”