Ann Farrell, BSN, RN, has held wide range of healthcare-related roles, from bedside RN and hospital administrator, to HealthIT (HIT) vendor executive, to small consulting business owner. As principal of Farrell Associates, Ann served diverse U.S. and Canadian healthcare organizations, HIT vendors and investment firms. She is well-published, a frequent public speaker and commenter on blogs and newspapers, and was a healthcare advisor for a 2018 congressional candidate.

I recently talked with Ann to learn more about her background and interest in teaching lifelong learners.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

Let me start by saying what an unexpectedly important role Osher at Towson University has had in my life. I grew up in Catonsville, MD, in a big, happy, Johnny U- and JFK- loving (in that order) extended Irish Catholic family. My brother describes our childhood as a “movable feast.” Friends claim I was “raised by Walt Disney.” As a 23 year old RN, after attending a wedding in California, I packed two lawn bags of clothes and a TV and, on a lark, headed back to San Francisco—in its heyday and mine—and stayed for 40 years. I was an emergency department RN, hospital administrator and HIT vendor executive before starting a boutique strategic HIT consulting firm. As a consultant, I worked with diverse groups—boards of directors, executives, vendor teams, clinicians and business analysts. Each had different goals and challenges and spoke English in different “dialects” that I needed to bridge. In looking for a place to retire, I chose Towson, MD, largely because of my sister and brother-in-law (Kathy and Dan Cuddy, long-time Osher fans). “Convenient access to Osher” was non-negotiable in locating the home we would share. Finding a Frank Lloyd Wright-style house in the woods in Towson was Kismet.

How long have you taught in the Osher at Towson University program? What’s been a favorite memory of teaching at Osher?

I’ve taught five Osher courses looking at the U.S. healthcare system from national, clinician, and consumer perspectives. My recent course, Healthcare 2020, focuses on the current state of older Americans’ (Osher population) health and healthcare, and the projected impact of November elections. I don’t have any singular Osher memory. But, for me, teaching at Osher at Towson University is an opportunity to share information and openly discuss topics I am passionate about with such interesting and engaged people.

What were your first impressions when you started teaching at Osher?

Though previously forewarned, my first impression was “I am dealing with well-educated, well- informed, well-read, opinionated, energetic people, so I had better be on my toes!” My appreciation for the diversity of courses, quality of instructors, and student participation—as well as the importance of the program in people’s lives—continues to grow.

How does your experience teaching at Osher differ from other teaching experiences you have had?

I’m a huge believer in the rewards of lifelong learning. After earning a bachelor in science in nursing and a public health certificate, I earned a teaching credential and taught at several colleges and a nursing school. Education was at the heart of all of my jobs. My consulting client executives valued well-sourced, straight-forward, relevant information with my “slant.” This is how I approach my Osher courses and students say they appreciate that.

As an Osher instructor, I enjoy teaching and learning from older adults with formed views and more life experience to draw on.

What are your hobbies or special interests outside of the topics that you teach at Osher?

After a blissful workaholic life in San Francisco, I became a disciple of Fran Lebowitz, “the patron saint of staying at home and doing nothing.” This helps in a pandemic. I’m an art and music devotee (sadly lack talent) so I miss museums and concerts as well as Scrabble, Black Jack, O’s, Ravens (Lamar), Blues hockey, family trips (last one Italy). In their absence I’ve turned to Netflix, novels, communicating with friends, and crusading—on blogs, in newspaper editorials, and to Congress. 

Do you have any words of wisdom given our current times?

Healthcare 2020 shows why older people and minorities in the US are most vulnerable to the corona virus. Before this pandemic, the U.S. ranked last among eleven international peers in healthcare, including deaths of despair, while spending twice as much. Unlike other countries, half of U.S. citizens is un- or under insured. COVID-19 put the U.S. healthcare system in the spotlight, magnifying its flaws. Millions of people working in service industries that are now holding communities together are finally recognized as “essential.” The country has long undervalued and under-invested in them, as evidenced by tolerance of a flawed healthcare system rife with ageism, racial discrimination, and profiteering with a shredded safety net.

It should be clear with COVID-19 that we ARE all in this together. After the crisis subsides, I hope we can balance rugged individualism with a renewed sense of community, à la “e pluribus unum,” and rethink our healthcare system. The fact I’m still optimistic given the current morass could be the Walt Disney in me. But returning to normal isn’t the answer since “normal” was the problem.

Currently, I’m listening to John Prine, still sad about his death, and old favorites Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, and Danny O’Keefe. I’m also pondering advice from Pluto (internet COVID-guide dog) to us ‘two-leggeds’ to “not get our knickers in a knot” and to “rejig our karma.”