Rural Hospital Leadership Award - Winners

2023 – Rowena Buffet Timms, Native Hawaiians experience tremendous health disparities with poorer health status, higher chronic disease risk and a life expectancy that is seven years less than everyone else in the state. Hawai’i Island faces significant disparities in access to health care due to provider shortages, limited health services and challenges in transportation. Guided by its Kahua Ola (foundation of health) strategy and Hawaii’s Community Health Needs Assessment, Queen’s North Hawaiʻi Community Hospital, Kamuela implemented several initiatives toward eliminating the existing health disparities and improving the quality of life for vulnerable patients with complex care needs.

2022Ruby Kirby, West Tennessee Bolivar General Hospital, Bolivar, TN and Hardeman County made healthy lifestyles a priority and made remarkable gains in reducing the obesity rate in Hardeman County especially for students. They established a food distribution center and distributed food, encouraged healthy food choices, and promoted exercise while working with BCBS to build a playground. These results were led by Ruby Kirby, CEO and achieved through organization of varied community resources focused on a common goal.

2021Paul Stewart, Through collaboration with Healthy Klamath a community-wide coalition, Sky Lakes Medical Center, Klamath Falls, Oregon led a comprehensive effort to improve population health for the 5 county area it serves in southern Oregon and northern California. This resulted in the 18-acre Klamath Works Campus, which helps residents with employment and economic opportunity. A critical part of this initiative is the Sky Lakes Wellness Center, which offers classes in fitness, mindfulness, nutrition and lifestyle coaching. Together these elements demonstrate an effective model for strengthening individual health and well-being and guiding long-term progress in addressing the societal factors that influence health and earned SLMC recognition as a Blue Zones Project.

2020Tom Dee, president and CEO and Pam Duchene, CNO at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC) in Bennington, Vt. deploy their nursing workforce as part of a transitional care model. Transitional care nurses partner with primary care providers to help patients navigate the system, identifying and closing gaps in care. Particular focus is given to linking with local home care agencies, SNFs and other community care partners. Nurses spend time in multiple care settings, including medical practices and in patient homes, and communicate through a variety of approaches including through telemedicine. The approach has helped to address many of the social determinants of health that contribute to chronic illness in rural Vermont. This includes mismanagement of medications, unsafe and unsanitary conditions at home and lack of financial resources.

2019 – Doug McMillan, CEO Cody Regional Health (CRH) in Cody, Wyo. and his team assessed data trends and partnered with Billings Clinic to build a conveniently located, high-quality cardiology center to reverse negative health outcomes affecting the community’s cardiac health. CRH’s interventional cardiology service helps to maintain continuity of care, lower readmissions and improve quality of life for the surrounding community. CRH has not only addressed its community health needs by expanding access to specialty services, they have eliminated distance and travel as barriers to receiving care.

2018 – Ronnie Sloan, CEO, The Outer Banks Hospital, Nags Head, NC, has led the hospital and the community in confronting several powerful public health challenges. Together they have addressed opioid use, HPV vaccinations, lung cancer screening and created the hospital’s Department of Community Outreach with a chronic disease committee and nurse navigator. He helped establish the area’s Physician’s Council on Rx Drug Abuse and earned the title of North Carolina’s first “dementia friendly” hospital. It is also the source of a comprehensive wellness program for 800 county government employees.

2017 – Bryan Slaba, CEO of Wagner Community Memorial Hospital - Avera (WCMH-A) in Wagner, SD demonstrates fortitude in promoting the welfare of the population he serves. Within four years of serving as CEO, Mr. Slaba expanded WCMH-A’s services, he developed cross-organization partnerships between WCMH-A and Indian Health Services and the Yankton Sioux Tribe, resulting in the establishment of an eight-chair dialysis center. Mr. Slaba’s abilities to engage physicians at WCMH-A is evident in the implementation of telemedicine and the use of Emergency, eStroke, eICU, ePharmacy, eConsult and eHospitalist. Utilizing telemedicine to increase access to care dramatically improved WCMH-A’s patient satisfaction/healthcare quality while reducing direct ER cost by over 30%. A dedicated citizen to the Wagner community, Mr. Slaba served as president of Wagner’s rotary committee. He is also the cofounder and president of a 57-unit low-income elderly housing company and a non-profit development corporation. Mr. Slaba’s business creativity contributed to the economic stability in the Wagner area.

2016 - Rodney Nelson, president and CEO of Mackinac Straits Health System, Inc. in St. Ignace, Mich., is a collaborative and strong advocate of rural health. Mr. 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 provide health care on Mackinac Island, which paved the way for a new facility that opened in 2003. Mr. 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 soon 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. In addition, Mr. Nelson received this recognition for his efforts with the Michigan state legislature to allow critical access hospitals to utilize the swing bed program, which allows patients to access care close to home.

2015 – Vincent Oliver, CEO and superintendent, Island Hospital in Anacortes, Wash., for his collaborative leadership and strong community roots. By teaming up with physicians, staff members and the community, Mr. Oliver brought innovative programs to Island Hospital such as a Sleep-Wellness Center, a Wound Care Center and the Merle Cancer Care Center, all of which were developed to keep health care local. A new mental health program was initiated with the Anacortes school district embedding mental health counselors in the schools. He’s also recruited medical staff to reflect the diversity of the community.

2014 – Harold Krueger, CEO, Chadron Community Hospital and Health Services in Chadron, Neb., for his innovative leadership. Mr. Krueger led the creation of Rural Nebraska Healthcare Network, which reshaped broadband communications in the Nebraska panhandle. He organized alliances with various organizations and agencies to provide a range of health care and social services to the community.

2013 – Susan Starling, R.N., president and CEO, Marcum & Wallace Memorial Hospital in Irvine, Ky., for her leadership in establishing medical homes and expanding access to wellness and preventative screening for under- and uninsured patients, and establishing statewide partnerships that have improved the quality of and access to health care in rural Kentucky, which included obtaining certification as the first Level IV Trauma Center in the state.

2012 – James J. Bleicher, M.D., CEO, Verde Valley Medical Center in Cottonwood, Ariz., for his strong commitment to quality improvement and for collaborating with the community to improve access and bring vital services to vulnerable, underserved groups.

2011 – James Dickson, CEO of Copper Queen Community Hospital (CQCH) in Bisbee, Ariz., has met the needs of the community in a changing health environment through collaboration and innovation, and he has made expanding access to quality health care a top goal. He has formed coalitions seeking funding to care for the rural population and has greatly expanded CQCH’s use of IT through electronic health records by securing funding for radiology diagnostic imaging and home health telemedicine.

2010 – Colleen "Casey" Meza, CEO of Clearwater Valley and St. Mary’s Hospital and Clinics in Orofino, Idaho, helped forge a strong partnership between the two hospitals, combining services and purchasing contracts and carrying out the mission of the Essentia Community Hospital & Clinics (formerly Benedictine Health System). As a part of its health care mission, both hospitals acquired or established satellite medical clinics and have greatly expanded their use of information technology. Today, each facility has advanced videoconferencing equipment (Remote Presence Robot) that allows two-way mobile conferencing between doctors, nurses and off-site specialists to improve patient care on-site and offer further training opportunities for caregivers and staff. Additionally, patients now have access to psychiatric care.

2009 – Scott M. Street, president and CEO of Duncan Regional Hospital (DRH) in Duncan, Okla., has focused on providing better access to health care and health education and creating a modern hospital for the citizens of Stephens County. Mr. Street's emphasis on improved access to health care led him to partner with other health care providers to expand DRH to provide cancer and pediatric care, and he also increased the availability of state-of-the-art imaging technology to further expand the types of treatment for community members.

2008 – Ronald Cork, CEO of Avera St. Anthony's Hospital in O'Neill, Neb., has collaborated with the community to create outreach programs and with hospital staff to develop health care services, expanding access and coverage to the community.

2007 – Russell W. Johnson, CEO of San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center (SLVRMC) in Alamosa, Colo., was recognized for the importance of community collaboration in efforts to expand health care services. Mr. Johnson engaged with a local district hospital to develop a new critical access hospital (CAH) serving two of the poorest counties in Colorado. SLVRMC shares many services and responsibilities with the new CAH. Mr. Johnson also works with a large, federally qualified health center to create and coordinate charity services that expand access to care for the uninsured and underinsured.


2006 – Brian T. Shockney, president and CEO of Memorial Hospital in Logansport, Ind., developed and led innovative strategies for the community-owned facility to expand partnerships with broader segments of the community. These collaborative programs include the establishment of an Rx Assist Program to help locate free pharmaceuticals for uninsured patients, placing a pediatrician in a local elementary school with a high population of uninsured and underinsured students and working with the University of Notre Dame to improve and expand care for the Latino population. The development of the 1.3-mile River Bluff Trail along the Eel River in downtown Logansport increased the community’s avenues for exercise, and created an enhancement for economic development.

2005 – Barbara Oestmann, CEO of Share Medical Center in Alva, Okla., and her staff have been instrumental in bringing new services to the communities Share Medical Center serves. Under her leadership, Share has established a mobile MRI service, a CT scanner, mammography services and fully automated filmless radiology services. In addition, Ms. Oestmann helped develop a collaborative partnership with the local vocational technology center, bringing many educational opportunities to her staff.

2004 – Lisa Schnedler, president and CEO, hospital administrator for Van Buren County Hospital and Clinics in Keosauqua, Iowa. An example of Ms. Schnedler’s vision can be found in Van Buren’s “Job Opportunities” program, a financially sustainable initiative that provided job services to county residents. Through a grant from Iowa’s Department of Economic Development to help create jobs, Van Buren Hospital opened a bakery, using its kitchen during off-hours.

2003 – Linda Farchione, CEO, Thompson Health, Canandaigua, N.Y., for defining the "Thompson Way." It set the framework for excellence in health care delivery by emphasizing the importance of vision, values, strategic planning and employee participation in a successful health care system.

2002 – Randolph B. Bacus, CEO, Colorado-Fayette Medical Center, Weimer, Texas, for establishing the hospital’s University of Texas Medical Branch of Galveston’s Family Practice Residency Program, enabling residents to spend four months living in the Weimar community, while caring for patients under the supervision of local physicians.

2001 – Timothy J. Tracy, CEO, Towner County Medical Center (TCMC), Cando, N.D., for improving health care delivery in the community through innovative and progressive efforts. By obtaining a certificate of need to renovate the existing hospital facilities and construct a new clinic, Mr. Tracy positioned TCMC for the future.

2000 – Gregory S. Lundstrom, CEO, Lindsborg Community Hospital, Kan., for fundraising and building a new 37-bed facility, while continuing to offer new services to the community. He initiated a creative financing arrangement that utilized bonds. He also used an innovative approach to share nursing services between two institutions during a nursing shortage.

1999 – Debra L. Griffin, Administrator, Humphreys County Memorial Hospital in Belzoni, Miss., for initiating the Delta Rural Health Network of Mississippi, Inc., consisting of 10 small and rural hospitals in the northern and Mississippi Delta areas that were financially at risk and forming an alliance to improve health care. Under that initiative, Ms. Griffin piloted Humphreys County Health Network.

1998 – Rodney C. Boula, Administrator and CEO, Clifton Fine Hospital in Star Lake, N.Y., for improving health care access in a sparsely populated and economically depressed area and establishing a hospital foundation to help replace medical equipment.

1997 – Donald J. Babb, CEO, Citizens Memorial Hospital and Citizens Memorial Health Care Foundation, Bolivar, Mo., for expanding community outreach and creating a fully integrated health care delivery system.

1996 – J. Michael Boyd, CEO, Benewah Community Hospital, St. Maries, Idaho, who was involved in carrying out the vision of developing a model rural health care system and a model rural community that addresses local health care needs and issues.

1995 – Bruce D. Peterson, CEO, Mercer County Hospital, who developed a public health department run by the hospital that has served as a model for the delivery of public health services in Illinois.

1994 – Leo A. Petit, Jr., CEO, Bladen County Hospital, Elizabethtown, N.C., whose management acumen transformed this failing North Carolina hospital into a functional and programmatic model.

1993 – Domingo Monroig, CEO, Hospital General Castaner, for overcoming multiple challenges faced by this impoverished mountain hospital in Puerto Rico.

1992 – Carol Schott, vice-president and CEO Odessa Memorial Hospital, whose creativity boosted both internal and external services at this hospital in Odessa, Washington.

1991 – Leo Geiger, CEO, Ashley Medical Center, who instituted innovative programs in his 21-bed hospital in Ashley, North Dakota.