News release: MDH and partners honor Duluth educator and Hibbing clinic

News Release
June 24, 2014

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MDH and partners honor Duluth educator and Hibbing clinic

Honoring outstanding service to rural Minnesota communities, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Rural Health Association presented this year’s "Rural Health Hero" and "Rural Health Team" awards today at the Minnesota Rural Health Conference in Duluth.

James G. 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. Project Care Free Clinic, based in Hibbing with additional sites in Ely, Grand Rapids and Virginia, received the Rural Health Team award.

"Minnesota has one of the best rural health systems in the country and it is due to the commitment and passion of people like Jim Boulger and the team at Project Care," said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. "These award winners exemplify the many ways people work to strengthen their communities and the health systems that serve them."

Rural Health Hero Award
Boulger, a Duluth resident, received the Rural Health Hero 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.

Rural Health Team Award
This year's Rural Health Team award went to Project Care Free Clinic, 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. The clinic began in 2009 by seeing patients two nights per month in Hibbing. Building on earlier free clinic efforts in that community, it has grown steadily over the past five years, adding sites in Ely, Grand Rapids and Virginia. Last year Project Care provided nearly 1,800 patient visits, with 97 percent of its patients considered low income according to federal poverty guidelines. Project Care accomplishes this work largely through donated goods, services and financial contributions.

The Minnesota Rural Health Conference presents the Rural Health Hero and Rural Health Team awards each year. This year's conference, "Weaving the Threads of Rural Health," was hosted by the Minnesota Department of Health's Office of Rural Health and Primary Care, the Minnesota Rural Health Association and the National Rural Health Resource Center. More information about the conference is available at


Media inquiries:

Scott Smith
MDH Communications