One in five Americans – 62 million people – live and work in rural areas. Keeping them healthy is the vital work of dedicated rural health providers like Donna Singer and Linda Larson in San Juan County.
Each have contributed in different ways to the health of local residents and are being recognized by the Utah State Office of Rural Health for their contributions on National Rural Health Day on Thursday, November 17, 2016.
Donna started her career as radiology technician working for the county health system. Over the years, she and her husband (along with their seven children), have taken in over 50 foster children, primarily Navajo kids from the reservation who the Singers wanted to help.
Their open door policy provided a hot meal and place to sleep to anyone in need of either. In her capacity as a healthcare worker, Donna recognized the disparity of the healthcare available to the Native Americans living on the reservation south of Blanding.
Through hard work and tenacity, she created the same open door policy she had in her home with healthcare service available to these individuals. Taking a line of credit against her home, she opened Utah Navajo Health Service (UNHS) in Montezuma Creek.
Starting with ten staff members and two medical providers. She served as CEO for 14 years, during which time UNHS expanded its operations, increased the size of the original clinic and added three additional clinics throughout the county.
In 2009, UNHS was an instrumental partner in opening Blue Mountain Hospital (BMH) in Blanding, where Donna eventually served as CEO for a number of years while still CEO at UNHS until 2014 when she retired.
Today, UNHS operates four Federally Qualified Health Centers and will soon break ground on a new 50,000 sf+ state-of-the-art facility in Montezuma Creek, with plans to build a new clinic in Blanding next year.
It now has 300 employees, 35+ providers and an annual budget of over $40 million. In addition to her service as CEO and board member of UNHS and BMH, Donna has also served on numerous boards and health associations throughout the region.
For these reasons, she has been named a “Community Star,” a program of the National Office of State Office of Rural Health (NOSORH), which acknowledges outstanding rural healthcare leaders and providers on National Rural Health Day, November 17, 2016.
Linda Larson was also singled out for “Community Star” recognition. She has worked for San Juan County EMS for 16 years. In her leadership position she also serves as the training officer, EMS coordinator, EMS for children coordinator and emergency management operations chief.
She has also been active in community education and injury prevention programs such as CPR, “Buckle Tough” (seatbelt awareness), “Trunk or Treat”(a safe Halloween trick or treat program), 5K races to raise funds for EMS, and the state’s Zero Fatalities Safety Summit.
One night in 2008, a motor coach carrying 52 passengers was involved in a 360-degree rollover while initiating a curve on US Route 163.
The roof of the motor coach separated from the body, causing 50 passengers to be ejected from their seats. Forty-three passengers and the driver were injured and nine passengers died.
Linda was one of the first EMS healthcare providers on the crash scene and assumed incident command over the medical response for this mass casualty incident.
She and her staff triaged patients, treated injuries and arranged for air and ground transport to facilities in four different states. This accident happened in the middle of winter after dark.
The EMS response to this incident was recognized by the Bureau of EMS and Preparedness as the “Incident of Year” with multiple agencies and individuals, including Linda, being recognized for their commitment, leadership and operations skills.
National Rural Health Day was created in 2011. Its goal is to increase awareness of rural health-related issues and challenges and to recognize those rural caregivers, like Donna and Linda, who are working to improve the health and wellbeing of people living in America’s rural communities.
Hospitals are the economic foundation of many rural communities. The 1,330 Critical Access Hospital provide essential health care to rural communities across 45 states and bring an average of 204 jobs to the local economy.
Rural doesn’t necessarily mean “remote”. Through growing telehealth and electronic health records initiatives, rural health professionals are able to coordinate care, stay connected with each other and with urban tertiary care centers.
Emergency medical services are mostly volunteer dependent, but are vital in rural America where 20 percent of the nation’s population lives and nearly 60 percent of all trauma deaths occur.