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Idaho State University Faculty and Alumni Receive Rural Health Heroes Awards

February 24, 2022

Idaho State University faculty and alumni were recognized at the recent Idaho Rural Health Heroes Awards, and  is celebrating several recognitions from the Idaho Rural Health Heroes Awards, and two ISU employees elected to serve on the Idaho Rural Health Association (IRHA) Board. 

Idaho Health Heroes Award recipients included Cynthia Bunde, clinical assistant professor in the Physician Assistant program and volunteer at the Pocatello Free Clinic for more than 25 years, Russ Spearman, senior research associate at the ISU Institute of Rural Health, and ISU alumna Sandra Woolstenhulme, nurse at the Teton Valley Health Cache Clinic. The three were among seven recognized for their work in rural settings.

“I felt somewhat undeserving of the recognition,” Woolstenhulme said. “After all, there are many, many rural health care workers who are equally putting forth their best efforts to make a positive impact on people's lives in rural Idaho. This is our day-to-day work and feels normal, not extraordinary. The recognition for health care providers is important and something that we need to be reminded of, especially in these times when the public sentiment may be shifting from trust and appreciation to mistrust and mistreatment.”

Spearman says he was pleasantly surprised to be one of the recipients this year.

“I'm thankful for the many dedicated professionals I have worked with over the years to advance issues that people with a brain injury living in rural communities face on a daily basis,” Spearman said, referring to his more than 20 years of work with traumatic brain injury research and treatment.

In 2020, Spearman was also awarded a five-year contract from the State Department of Education to analyze, evaluate, and report on data related to a Garrett Lee Smith Grant, which focuses on preventing and addressing youth suicide in Idaho.

Bunde has been volunteering in various capacities at the Pocatello Free Clinic since the mid-1990s and has continued to focus on underserved populations in the community, including low-income patients and residents of rural areas.

“The most rewarding thing I’ve found about working in rural health is becoming a trusted part of my patients' lives and the gratification of making them feel valued,” Bunde said.

The full list of winners is available from the Idaho Rural Health Heroes Awards Celebration.

Diana Schow, assistant professor in community and public health Southeast Idaho Area Health Education Center (AHEC) executive director and Velma Payne, assistant professor and program director of Health Informatics, were selected to serve on the board for four-year terms.

“Health care equity in rural communities and ensuring quality health care is available to those living in rural communities is a passion of mine,” said Payne.”In my current term, I plan to continue to analyze membership data to identify gaps in the IRHA membership. I also hope to determine ways informatics-based solutions may be incorporated into rural settings to enhance rural health care.”

Both Schow and Payne stated they are honored to be selected to serve and are looking forward to improving rural healthcare access.

“The majority of Idaho’s land area is a designated Health Professional Shortage Area for primary care, mental health care, and dental health care,” Schow said. “Providers in the state are aging out of the workforce and rural locations will feel such losses to a very high degree. Low numbers of providers are exacerbating health care access issues in rural communities, which already suffer from challenges like lack of transportation, poor roads, and extreme weather conditions.”



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