Meet the new CEO of Alabama Regional Medical Services in Birmingham

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Thomas “Ted” Greer knows what it’s like to do without it. The new CEO of Alabama Regional Medical Services (ARMS), an organization that provides affordable healthcare services and facilities to people who can’t afford to pay or who don’t have insurance, understands “the pain of hunger,” he said .

“There were nights when we had nothing to eat,” he recalls growing up in his family. “I remember sometimes dinner was a plate of rice with gravy, that’s it. I remember mom sometimes had cereal for dinner. That’s all they could afford, so I understand the struggle.”

The family’s first home consisted of two bedrooms, one for the parents and one for the three daughters; and the three boys stayed in the living room, Greer said.

In December, he assumed his role as the new CEO of ARMS, which has “great providers, doctors and nurses,” he said, but more needs to be done to bring the organization to the community. Access is still an issue for many people in Birmingham, he said.

“I think we need to get out into the community and get some of the services to the people who need it most. Some of the people here in Birmingham really don’t have transportation. And they are very sick,” he said.

“Live in poverty”

He brings his life experience to his role as CEO.

Greer, 59, is the fifth of six children born to Mildred and Thomas Sr. of Antigua and Montserrat, both Caribbean islands. Greer was born in St. Thomas, one of the US Virgin Islands, in 1964 before the family moved to Miami, Florida in 1974.

Greer said he spent most of his youth in the Caribbean on Antigua. On the island, Greer said, “You didn’t know you lived in poverty.”

“I think we had the best times. We didn’t have toys and things like some of the other wealthier kids, but it didn’t feel any different. It just felt like this was a way of life. We made toys out of mud,” Greer said.

It wasn’t until the family reached Miami in 1974 that Greer said he realized what poverty was.

“When I went to see them, the guys I hung out with had these wonderful toys — trucks and toy guns and this, that, and that, and we didn’t have any of that, so it was an enlightening experience.”

For many Caribbeans, the mainland US was “heaven”, a place many dreamed of living in because of its wealth. After coming with his family, the change was shocking, especially the roads, he said.

“Our eyes were wide open the whole time. The freeways themselves – driving on I-95 was a daunting experience. We’ve never been on a freeway where people drive at 80, 90 miles an hour. That alone scared us to death like ‘What’s up?’ It was all just culture shock,” Greer said.

The “go-to” person

Greer grew up in the United States and said his family stayed poor for most of their lives. Thomas Sr., Greer’s father, was a pastor of the Ebenezer Assembly of God Church, now Ebenezer Community Church, a tiny church in Miami.

Throughout his youth, Greer said, he didn’t have much interest in the kind of job he’s now spent most of his life in. At the beginning of his time at Miami Southridge Senior High School, Greer said he wanted to be a police officer.

However, a sociology class, coupled with the fact that he’d become something of an emotional advisor to his friends, began to alter his career plans, Greer said.

“I became a natural go-to when my friends were going through challenges, personal issues, kind of being their advisor, at age 16, but it was really also the sociology class that kind of kept me from being a cop wanting more.” about psychology and counseling doing what I did with my friends.

Greer also recalls that his mother didn’t particularly like him becoming a police officer given the perceived risk of being killed on the job, he said.

“[My mother was] was just afraid that would happen to me and said, “Ted, you have to think this through. What if you’re getting married and every time you step out that door to go to work your wife and kids are going to worry? What time are you coming home tonight?’” Greer recalled.

Greer began working numerous jobs while in high school, including a telemarketer, furniture delivery man, and farm hand, to help support his family.

After graduating from Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School in Florida, he continued to work a variety of jobs, including cooking breakfasts and lunches at a retirement center, he said.

“I actually enjoyed that. That also became a passion and then… with my longing for people, I started to build relationships with older people. As a chef, they loved my food, so I was able to sit with them and talk to them for a while,” the CEO said.

The lentil soup, one of Greer’s own creations, is particularly memorable. He recalled regularly looking forward to eating it with crackers.

The addition of diced ham in the last 20 minutes of cooking also made the dish popular with residents. “It just brought all the flavor together and it became a hit.”

While Greer has mostly given up cooking since his time at the retirement center, he said he has tried to cook again since moving to Birmingham.

“There are so many restaurants and so many restaurants [in Birmingham]and everything is very good, so it was an expensive habit at first, so I said, ‘Maybe I should start cooking now.’”

When he cooks for himself, Greer says he particularly enjoys making baked chicken with rice and either spinach or broccoli.

Greer’s calling

In 1992, after Hurricane Andrew devastated much of South Florida, Greer said, “He felt the call of God in my life to be some kind of faith leader.”

He took over Ebenezer Church in 1995 after his father retired and served as pastor until 2013.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in social work in 2002 and a master’s degree in health administration in 2004 from former Almeda University in Boise, Idaho, Greer also received his doctorate from Christian Bible College in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

In 2000, Greer also began working for the Health Choice Network of Florida (HCNF), an organization similar to ARMS, he said. Greer continued to work there and was eventually promoted to associate vice president.

In the years since Greer worked his way up at HCNF, he has served as CEO of Palm Beach County Florida’s Center for Family Services and most recently HOPE South Florida, a faith-based organization that provides shelter assistance and other services to Homeless, especially veterans.

Having lived in Florida most of his life, Greer and his wife Olivia felt it was time to move. They were considering moving to other southern states when he was approached by an ARMS recruiter.

Living in Birmingham

Greer and Olivia now live in Hoover. They have two daughters, Keziah, 22, who is in a physical therapy doctoral program at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Kereyne, 17, who will graduate high school in May. She will attend nursing school at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

Greer said he and his family enjoy taking cruises, of which they have been on 23.

Given his self-described “humble beginnings,” Greer said he’s been surprised on numerous occasions by the numerous opportunities that have been presented to him, which fills him with intense optimism.

“Here I am. I was CEO for I don’t know, this is my fifth organization I think, at the peak of my career and a lot of the same people who said it wasn’t possible are surprised and often show up in my organization looking for an opportunity,” said Greer.

“I sometimes look back on my story and I’m like, ‘This is amazing,'” he added.