Press Release

Rodney Nelson Receives AHA’s Rural Hospital Leadership Award

Rodney Nelson, president and CEO of Mackinac Straits Health System, Inc. in St. Ignace, Mich., is the recipient of the American Hospital Association’s (AHA) Rural Hospital Leadership Award. The award recognizes small or rural hospital chief executives and administrators who have achieved improvements in local health delivery and health status through their leadership and direction.

Nelson’s leadership at Mackinac Straits began in 1999 with a vision to improve access to health care services in rural northern Michigan. He worked collaboratively with the Mackinac Island Medical Center to jointly provide health care on Mackinac Island, which paved the way for a new facility that opened in 2003. Nelson advanced his vision of improved access by establishing a joint venture between Mackinac Straits Hospital and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Health Services. Mackinac Straits Health System, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), followed. The collaboration eventually led to a new health care campus, including a 15-bed critical access hospital, a private nursing home, a rural health clinic and a surgery center. The system provides care for 1 million annual visitors and a county of 11,000 residents.

Nelson is an effective advocate for rural health, and his efforts with the Michigan state legislature allow critical access hospitals to utilize the swing bed program, providing care close to home for patients.

Nelson’s vision extends to meeting community needs. Recent efforts include a partnership, which led to the establishment of St. Ignace Shores, an 8-bed mental health facility. Additionally, Nelson collaborated with Munson Healthcare to bring weekend retail pharmacy access to the community, projected to open spring 2017.

The Rural Hospital Leadership Award also recognized two finalists for their efforts to improve health care delivery in their communities: Warren West, CEO of Littleton Regional Healthcare (LRH) in Littleton, N.H., and Dr. Lon Butikofer, CEO of Regional Medical Center (RMC) in Manchester, Iowa.

While CEO of LRH, West provided the leadership necessary for LRH to remain a sustainable small and rural hospital, by taking actions to accelerate the hospital on the road to reform. He now serves as CEO of North Country Healthcare (NCH), a group of four critical access hospitals that have united to form a hospital system while preserving independence for each of its members. In addition, NCH has developed a LLC owned by the four critical access hospitals and three federally qualified health centers to facilitate commercial insurance risk-based contracts – the first of its kind the nation.

Leading RMC since 1993, Dr. Butikofer manages what is today an independent, sustainable critical access hospital that provides access to a wide variety of critical health care services. Under his leadership, five rural health clinics successfully merged into becoming Regional Family Health, which today is a thriving and rapidly expanding Level 3 Patient-Centered Medical Home in Northeast Iowa. RMC participates in community outreach and expanded programs to include a walk-in clinic, robotic surgery and many patient-centered initiatives for a service area that spans four counties and approximately 25,000 in population.

About the AHA

The AHA is a not-for-profit association of health care provider organizations and individuals that are committed to the health improvement of their communities. The AHA is the national advocate for its members, which include nearly 5,000 hospitals, health care systems, networks, other providers of care and 43,000 individual members. Founded in 1898, the AHA provides education for health care leaders and is a source of information on health care issues and trends. For more information, visit the AHA website at

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