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Institute of Rural Health celebrates 20 years, $34 million of grants at Idaho State University

Posted October 22, 2009

The Idaho State University Institute of Rural Health – which has been awarded $34 million in grant and contract funds since its inception – will celebrate its 20th anniversary at the Idaho Conference on Health Care on Oct. 30 at ISU.

Members of the IRH will staff booths and offer celebratory cake at the conference from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the third floor of the Pond Student Union.

In 1989, the Institute of Rural Health (IRH) was developed as a non-academic unit by Linda Hatzenbuehler, who was dean of the Kasiska College of Health Professions at the time and is currently ISU associate vice president for health education. The IRH was started to promote the growth of research and bring in external funding from both grants and contracts.

Linda Hatzenbuehler “I am pleased and proud of the accomplishments of the IRH,” Hatzenbuehler said. “The contributions of the Institute of Rural Health to ISU go well beyond the project funds they have brought to the institution. They are an excellent example of academic entrepreneurship.”

“They are almost entirely self-funded through aggressive pursuit of grants and contracts,” continued Hatzenbuehler. “They have served as a training ground for young academics interested in learning grantsmanship. They also serve as a resource to grant writers in all academic units who need technical assistance with grant submissions. Given their track record, I an confident that the IRH will continue to flourish.”

 The first director, Jeff Bartlome, started the IRH primarily with contract work. Following his untimely death, subsequent directors combined this with grant-funded research.

Some of the areas of research that the IRH is involved in include telehealth, traumatic brain injury, disaster awareness and preparedness, stigma and mental illness, youth suicide prevention, traumatic stress, the effects of alcohol in menopausal women, burden of injury studies with Native Americans, and health promotion.

Neill Piland“The Institute of Rural Health has managed to remain highly successful in research markets that have become increasingly competitive. This has been accomplished largely through extramural funding through federal, state and private foundation grants and contracts,” said IRH director Neill Piland. “We consistently compete successfully against much larger and more prestigious research universities and private research institutions.”

Other grants and contracts have provided the means to conduct research on a wide variety of health-related topics. Innovation is an important aspect of research in the IRH, which can be seen by visiting the website at http://www.isu.edu/irh/ and clicking on the links for Play2TrainTM, Rocky Mountain Learning Distance Education and Health IT Outreach Program.

Some of these grants and contracts provide funds for service and scholarships. The Idaho Community HealthCorps (an AmeriCorps program) places service members in community health centers and other sites to provide outreach, assist with advocacy needs, and provide health education. A new AmeriCorps program in 2009 provides assistance to Head Start programs throughout Idaho. In addition, the Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program has provided more than $1.5 million to ISU students enrolled in health-related programs since 1999.

“The ability to acquire and retain innovative, highly trained and incredibly productive research professionals has been the key,” Piland said. “These ‘core’ professionals have established enviable research 'track records’ in a wide variety of disciplines. The key to future advancement is accelerating innovation, research integrity and professional excellence. We are looking forward to an even more successful and exciting future.”

The IRH has some very talented researchers working in innovative and diverse areas of healthcare. Many of these researchers have been highly honored for their work. One researcher, former director and current research professor Beth Hudnall Stamm, was selected as ISU’s Distinguished Researcher in 2004. Two others have been selected as ISU Outstanding Researchers: research professor Swamy Laxminarayan in 2005 and research professor Laura Tivis in 2008.

National and international honors include the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies Public Interest Award for “fundamental and outstanding contributions to the public’s understanding of trauma,” the International Peabody Award, the Voice Award for service in the mental health field, and the American Psychological Association Presidential Citation.

The Institute of Rural Health has also had the honor of a researcher, Beth Hudnall Stamm, being asked by the U.S. State Department to be the U.S. Representative to the Inter-Governmental Meeting of Experts in Indonesia to Formulate Psychosocial Programme for Rehabilitation of Tsunami Survivors. One researcher, Russell Spearman, has also been honored as a 2009 Health Care Hero sponsored by the “Idaho Business Review.”