Previous Rural Health Awards


The Minnesota Rural Health Awards are presented each year at the Minnesota Rural Health Conference to recognize individuals and teams that have made outstanding contributions to rural health care.

View the press release for the 2016 Rural Health Awards winners.

Previous Rural Health Award Recipients


Rural Health Hero Award Winners

  • 2016
Matthew E. Bernard, MD, is the co-founder and medical director at The Center Clinic in Dodge Center. The clinic is a volunteer-based, non-profit clinic that provides teens, children, low-income, uninsured and underinsured women and men with physical and mental health care, counseling and education. Along with serving as the Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Mayo Clinic, and Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Bernard has volunteered at The Center Clinic since 2004. Bernard’s leadership has helped improve the health of thousands in the area.
  • 2015
Maureen Ideker, a Sunburg resident and registered nurse, received the Rural Health Hero award for her more than 20 years of leadership developing telehealth services as a way to improve health care access for rural Minnesotans. After a long career as director of nursing at Tri-County Hospital in Wadena, Ideker became an early and enduring advocate of telehealth and the infrastructure needed to maintain it, including broadband capacity, funding and training services in rural areas. Ideker has had many roles in which she has advocated for telehealth including as a manager of major grants, rural nurse educator, service developer, policy advisor, and in her current work at Essentia with numerous rural hospitals and clinics. This extensive experience has made Ideker the state’s “resident expert” on telehealth and how to make it work for rural Minnesota.
  • 2014
Jim Boulger, a charter faculty member at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Duluth and director of the Center for Rural Mental Health Studies, received the Rural Health Hero award. Boulger, a Duluth resident, received the award for more than four decades of educating and mentoring family medicine physicians, and for helping make the Duluth campus a national model for producing primary care doctors who choose to practice in rural areas. Boulger holds a doctorate in psychology and has taught at the medical school in Duluth since 1973. He has been instrumental in building the program to succeed in its mission to train students planning to practice family medicine in rural Minnesota and American Indian communities. The Duluth campus now produces a greater percentage of rural physicians and family medicine physicians than any other medical school in the U.S. Boulger also teaches in the Department of Biobehavioral Health & Population Sciences and directs the Center for Rural Mental Health Studies.
  • 2013
Al Vogt, a resident of Cook, received the Minnesota Rural Health Hero award for over three decades of leadership and advocacy, not only in his local community but far beyond it. Vogt is Chief Executive Officer of Cook Hospital, a critical access hospital and attached nursing home serving a 2,500-square-mile region of Minnesota wilderness and recreational areas. In addition to his accomplished track record as a health care administrator in his local community, Vogt has helped bring together other Minnesota hospitals in collaborations recognized nationally for their innovation and effectiveness, particularly in the use of technology and telehealth.
  • 2012
O.J. Doyle, of St. Paul, received the Minnesota Rural Health Hero award after working over two decades on legislative efforts and innovation to strengthen the state's EMS system, particularly in rural areas. Most recently, he helped Minnesota become the first state in the nation to establish a new health care provider type: the community paramedic. Community paramedics work alongside EMS personnel to address low-intensity and preventive cases, effectively increasing a community's primary care capacity while also freeing up its EMS providers for more urgent situations. Trained as a paramedic and now a lobbyist for a variety of EMS clients, Doyle was instrumental in helping Community Paramedic legislation become enacted in 2011 with strong bipartisan support. He also helped create the Minnesota EMS Regulatory Board and the Minnesota Statewide Trauma System, and worked to secure funding for a variety of EMS functions in rural areas, including those for volunteer ambulance personnel and rural ambulance research.
  • 2011
Therese Zink, M.D., of Zumbrota, received the Minnesota Rural Health Hero award for promoting rural health in Minnesota and across the county. Dr. Zink is a member of the University of Minnesota faculty, a published author, and a family physician in Zumbrota. As a faculty member and associate director of research and evaluation at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Dr. Zink teaches third-year medical students who are part of the Rural Physician Associate Program (RPAP). The Minnesota Legislature and the University founded RPAP in 1971 to train more rural and primary care physicians. Over the past five years, Dr. Zink has analyzed the outcomes of RPAP, demonstrating the program’s success training rural and primary care physicians and showing its potential as a model nationwide.
  • 2010
Colleen Spike,St. Peter, received the Minnesota Rural Health Hero award for her role as a champion of small rural hospitals. Her nursing background, compassion and holistic approach to care are evident in the value she places on collaboration. Under Spike’s guidance as chief executive officer, River’s Edge Hospital & Clinic grew from a 38-bed facility to a 30-acre health care campus providing care for St. Peter, all of Le Sueur and Nicollet counties and portions of Blue Earth and Sibley counties.
  • 2009
Tim Rice, Staples, received the Minnesota Rural Health Hero award for his contributions in strengthening medical services in central Minnesota. Rice is president of Lakewood Health System, which has grown from one hospital and 200 employees under his direction to an independent, integrated system of five primary care clinics, senior services and 800 employees. According to the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services, Lakewood has set the national standard for the medical home model, also known as a health care home.
  • 2008
Gary Wingrove received the Minnesota Rural Health Hero award for his contributions in strengthening emergency medical services (EMS) in rural Minnesota and nationally. Wingrove is director of Government Relations and Strategic Affairs for Mayo Clinic Medical Transport, a nonprofit air and ground transportation company serving multiple communities in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Prior to that position, he served as emergency medical technician and paramedic for volunteer, nonprofit, government and hospital-based ambulance services in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin and as state EMS director.
  • 2007
Ray G. Christensen, M.D., is a board-certified family physician and cofounder of the Gateway Family Health Clinic in Moose Lake. Dr. Christensen helped develop the trauma system in northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, the Arrowhead EMS Association, the Northern Lakes Health Care Consortium, Minnesota Center for Rural Health, Minnesota Office of Rural Health and Primary Care and the Rural Health Resource Center. He has advocated for rural health through the Minnesota Health Care Commission, Area Health Education Center and Regional Coordinating Boards. He served as president of the Minnesota Rural Health Association and is currently the Clinical Services Chair for the National Rural Health Association. Dr. Christensen currently serves as assistant dean for Rural Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School Duluth campus, mentoring family practice students, and was the driving force behind the Minnesota Summer Internship in Medicine Program.
  • 2006
Gary L. Davis, Ph.D., L.P., associate director of the Center for Rural Mental Health Studies at the University of Minnesota Medical School Duluth, championed the telemental health service that now exists in Northland Medical Center in Bigfork, Scenic Rivers Health Services in Cook and the Littlefork Medical Center in Littlefork.
  • 2005
Wilfredo Apostol, M.D. has played a major role in the health care and community life of Lyon, Redwood, Murray and Cottonwood Counties over more than 30 years.
  • 2004
Marie Comstock's contributions continue to benefit the residents of Roseau County and surrounding areas.
  • 2003
Darrell Smith of Grand Marais for his dedication and commitment to the residents of Cook County.
  • 2002
Rick Failing, hospital administrator of Kittson Memorial Healthcare Center in Hallock.
  • 2002
Mel Nefstead of Staples for his work as a rural health advocate in his community and statewide since 1968.
  • 2001
Dr. Darrell Carter, Granite Falls family physician and founder of the Comprehensive Advanced Life Support (CALS) Program.
  • 2000
Anne Roberton, a retired emergency medical technician and former director of the Rushford Ambulance service.
  • 1999
Warren Larson, Community Liaison Director, North Country Health Services, Bemidji, for his tireless work to counteract violence in schools and communities with kindness and caring.

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Rural Health Team Award Winners:

  • 2016
The Morrison County Prescription Drug Task Force, Little Falls. It is a volunteer task force, formed in January 2015 to reduce prescription drug and opioid abuse in Morrison County. The task force consists of representatives from the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office, Little Falls Police Department, Morrison County Attorney’s Office, Stand Up 4 U Coalition (youth substance use prevention), Horizon Health, Little Falls School District, Morrison County Public Health, Morrison County Social Services, Coborn’s Pharmacy, St. Gabriel’s Pharmacy, two physicians with CHI St. Gabriel’s Health, a physician assistant, and a representative from CHI St. Gabriel’s Health Foundation. The Task Force meets monthly to collaborate on steps the community can take to address their opioid epidemic.
  • 2015
The Angel Fund, based in Hibbing. This fund was originally established by the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce Women’s Innovative Network to provide financial support to women undergoing breast cancer treatment. In 2012, the Angel Fund expanded its mission to serve women, men and children afflicted with any kind of cancer. Today, the all-volunteer organization supports individuals and families throughout the Iron Range as they face cancer treatment and survivorship.
  • 2014
Project Care Free Clinic, based in Hibbing with additional sites in Ely, Grand Rapids and Virginia, received the Rural Health Team award. Project Care Free Clinic is a Hibbing-based organization providing health care services in four northern Minnesota communities through an extraordinary network of volunteers and community partners. Project Care’s mission is to provide health care access and outreach to people who are uninsured while networking with other community-based organizations to facilitate continued treatment, screenings and education.
  • 2013
The Mobile Health Team of Open Door Health Center based out of Mankato. As a Community Health Center and the only sliding-fee medical and dental access point south of the Twin Cities, Open Door has long served as an important source of affordable primary care in rural southwestern Minnesota, particularly for those facing barriers such as poverty, lack of transportation and lack of insurance. In 2012, to make its services accessible throughout south-central and southwestern Minnesota, Open Door launched two mobile units.
  • 2012
The Violence Prevention Council of Morrison County received the Rural Health Team Award for its collaboration and innovation using a "spectrum of violence" approach to reduce partner violence in Morrison County by targeting upstream activities to change societal norms.  
  • 2011
The Right Side Up in Otter Tail County received the Rural Health Team Award for its compassionate in-home efforts to reduce fall risk among seniors and improve their quality of life.  
  • 2010
The Northern Dental Access Center received the Rural Health Team Award for its work with families in rural, northwestern Minnesota who have low incomes. Staff is trained in understanding poverty and in recognizing the symptoms of sexual assault, neglect, mental health vulnerabilities and more. A patient advocate works to address all concerns to ensure patients receive the care they need in the most pain-free way possible. More details about Northern Dental Access Center on the ORHPC Models page.
  • 2009
Riverwood Healthcare Center and Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, Brainerd Lakes Affiliate were recognized for their Breast Health Team. Riverwood Healthcare Center launched a Nurse Navigator Program for Breast Health to serve residents of Aitkin and Crow Wing counties. The program educates women about the need for regular screenings for early detection of breast cancer and offers one-on-one support and coordination of services for women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. The program reaches out to women 35 and older and those with low household incomes. The goal is to improve care for patients with breast cancer and to improve access to breast cancer screenings. The program is a model for breast health that is being used in other health care systems.
  • 2008
Saint Elizabeth’s Medical Center’s Wellness and Disease Management Team was recognized for their involvement in the health of their community. The team develops and implements programs and services that promote wellness, prevention, disease management and early intervention. Saint Elizabeth’s helps elementary children, seniors and every age in between to reduce their risk factors through increased physical activity and improved nutrition.
  • 2007
One of the driving forces of the Drug Free Coalition of Bemidji has been its voluntary involvement of members from all sectors of the community including parents, health care, social services, government, schools, law enforcement, faith communities and youth. This collaboration is making an impact on youth drug and alcohol abuse through the multidisciplinary approach of projects and services.
  • 2006
The Access Healthcare Home Health Psychiatric Nursing Team is a Medicare-certified, Minnesota class A licensed home health agency based in Grand Rapids, with patients in Cohasset, Deer River, Hill City, Jacobson, McGregor, Aitkin, and Iron Range towns. The team of certified psychiatric registered nurses includes Nancy Hock-Lien, Linda Mortenson and Carmen Rumer.
  • 2005
Sisu Medical Systems is a nonprofit corporation that manages shared information technology (IT) services for a consortium of medical centers using a minimum of member resources, which is crucial to sustaining and increasing the region’s rural health care capabilities and it would be cost prohibitive for small facilities.
  • 2004
The Senior Helping Hands Peer Volunteers made invaluable contributions by helping troubled seniors recover and re-enter their community. The team's leadership, innovation, dedication and commitment to the program makes a difference in the quality of life for seniors struggling with chemical dependency and mental health issues.
  • 2003
The Madelia Community Hospital “Fight the Fat” Program Award recipients include the town of Madelia and the dedicated people who helped plan and lead the program, including Deb Grote, Donna Klinkner, Candace Fenske, Bev Dahl, Denise Osburn, Deidre Hruby, Jodi Ulmen, and Laura Meyer
  • 2002
Freshwater Education District Lakewood Health System Fetal Alcohol Diagnostic Team,Staples, for their efforts to increase community understanding of the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • 2001
County Emergency Medical Services, Fertile, a non-profit, charitable organization run entirely by volunteers.
  • 2000
Paynesville Area Health Care System, a model for collaboration in health care delivery, and an important component of the Rural Physician Associate program and the Rural Health School.
  • 2000
Saludando Salud, providing medical interpretation services, referral and appointment assistance, health education, and cultural competency and medical interpretation training to Chicano/Latino people in south central Minnesota.
  • 1999
Drs. Keith Moulton and Roger Parsons of the Moulton and Parsons Clinic in St. James for their fifty years of caring for the people and community of St. James.

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Rural Health Lifetime Achievement Winner

  • 2016
Paul Van Gorp, MD, is the 2016 Rural Health Lifetime Achievement Award winner. He is a family practice provider at CentraCare Health–Long Prairie. Throughout his career, Dr. Van Gorp has worked to ensure that residents in rural areas receive the same high quality health care as residents in larger cities. Since 1976, Van Gorp has served as a preceptor for the Rural Medical Scholars and Rural Physician Associate programs and has worked with over 150 of today’s practicing providers. He received the Exemplary Teaching Award from the American Academy of Family Physicians in 2013. Beginning in 1993, Van Gorp was instrumental in developing the Comprehensive Advanced Life Support (CALS) program, which provides emergency medical training to rural health care teams and now U.S. Embassy medical personnel around the globe. Van Gorp also volunteers at Project H.E.A.L (Health, Education, Access, Link) to provide free health screenings and basic care for those with little or no insurance. About 90 percent of his Project H.E.A.L. patients are members of Todd County’s large Amish community, for whom he has become a trusted advocate.

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Updated Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 05:24PM