News release: MDH and partners honor rural health workers

News Release
June 21, 2016

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MDH and partners honor rural health workers

Rural communities face different challenges from urban areas, and this is true in public health as much as it is in economics, transportation and other sectors. It takes special talent and perspective to effectively serve residents of rural areas, and today at the Minnesota Rural Health Conference in Duluth some of Minnesota’s most talented public health workers received well-deserved recognition for their service to the state’s rural communities and residents.

The Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Rural Health Association and the Duluth-based National Rural Health Resource Center presented the 2016 Minnesota Rural Health Awards honoring outstanding service to rural Minnesota communities. The honorees included:

  • Dr. Paul Van Gorp received the Rural Health Lifetime Achievement award for his more than 40 years of service as a family practice provider at CentraCare Health in Long Prairie.
  • Dr. Matthew E. Bernard, co-founder and medical director at The Center Clinic in Dodge Center, received the Rural Health Hero award.
  • The Morrison County Prescription Drug Task Force in Little Falls, received the Rural Health Team award.

According to Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger, the honorees embody the spirit of service and innovation that helped Minnesota build a robust rural health system that has served as a model for other states.

“Minnesota has one of the best rural health systems in the country thanks to the commitment and ingenuity of people like Paul Van Gorp, Matthew Bernard and the Morrison County Prescription Drug Task Force,” said Commissioner Ehlinger. “They exemplify the many ways people work to strengthen rural communities and the health systems that serve them.”

The Minnesota Rural Health Conference presents the Rural Health Hero and Rural Health Team awards each year. This year’s conference, focused on "Cultivating Resilient Communities," 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 is available online at Annual Minnesota Rural Health Conference.

Rural Health Lifetime Achievement Award

The 2016 Rural Health Lifetime Achievement Award went to Paul Van Gorp, MD, 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.

Rural Health Hero Award

The 2016 Rural Health Hero Award went to Matthew E. Bernard, MD, 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.

Rural Health Team Award

The 2016 Rural Health Team award went to the Morrison County Prescription Drug Task Force in Little Falls. The volunteer task force, formed in January 2015, has reduced 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. In the last year, the task force implemented new policies regarding prescribing and managing refills of narcotics at CHI St. Gabriel’s Health Family Medical Center. The task force sponsored a “Drug Take Back” event at the hospital’s health fair; it assisted in writing medication destruction policies for home health agencies throughout Morrison County; and it initiated tracking prescription narcotic data among pharmacies in Morrison County. In addition, law enforcement members have worked with medical staff so that additional narcotics are not prescribed after a person has been charged with a drug-related offense.


Media inquiries:

Scott Smith
MDH Communications