The Center for Rural Health Development hosts Appalachian Health Leadership Forum


DANIELS — The Center for Rural Health Development was pleased to recently host its annual Appalachian Health Leadership Forum, the first since the pandemic. Rural health care and public health board members and executive leaders gathered for two days to Reconnect, Recharge, and Get Inspired.

“The past two years have been some of the most challenging for our rural health care and public health leaders and boards,” said Sharon Lansdale, President and CEO of The Center for Rural Health Development. “Health disparities arise not just from unequal access to healthcare services but also unequal access to economic opportunity, meaningful work, stable families, livable housing, reliable transportation, quality education, and thriving communities. Healthier people mean a stronger economy. This forum provided information on how organizations can strengthen their communities and create opportunities.”

Approximately 40 organizational leaders from West Virginia gathered at Glade Springs to explore topics discussed at organizations and in board rooms throughout West Virginia and the nation.

The two-day event kicked off on Friday morning, May 6, with a presentation from Jamie Orlikoff, president of Orlikoff & Associates, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in health care governance, leadership, strategy, quality, safety and system development. Orlikoff outlined the challenges facing rural health care organizations and their boards. He also presented a model for effective governance and strategies for jump-starting governance improvement.

Attendees stayed engaged during a presentation titled, The Role of Governing and Advisory/Subsidiary Boards in Community Health Improvement from Kevin Barnett, D.Ph., M.C.P., senior investigator with Public Health Institute and Governance Institute Faculty. Barnett focused on the board’s accountability in community health and the link between community health and economic development.

Following lunch, Managing Director Brent McDonald and Executive Director Chris Benson of Juniper Advisory engaged attendees with a discussion on What if Trader Joe’s Ran Healthcare Organizations? Balancing Scale and Culture to Achieve Success. This session offered healthcare leaders lessons learned from other industries about the importance of organizational culture on the bottom line and most importantly, patient outcomes.

Next, attendees learned about The Role of Governance in Driving Better Health Through Community Resource Collaboration by Linda Summers, COO of Via Healthcare Consulting. Summers discussed the board’s role in community partnerships and the importance of community input in prioritizing needs.

Roger Hanshaw, attorney for Bowles Rice and Speaker of the W.Va. House of Delegates, provided insight on virtual versus in-person board meetings. He discussed how to understand which board discussions can take place virtually and which discussions are best held during an in-person meeting. 

Friday’s events concluded with a motivational session by keynote speaker Jessica Rector. Rector is a former television talk show host and a best-selling author. She spoke about how organizational leadership needs to be proactive in addressing burnout by inspiring employees to keep doing their best work. Rector described tools leaders can use to increase employee engagement and retention.

Each year during the dinner portion of the two-day event, the Center’s Board of Directors presents the West Virginia Rural Health Leadership award to an individual who has provided leadership in improving health in rural communities throughout West Virginia. This year’s 2022 recipient is long-time physician Dan Foster, M.D., and a former member of the West Virginia Senate.

Recently retired from his role as a Physician Administrator at the largest hospital in West Virginia, Dr. Foster is a Stanford-trained physician, former clinical professor, and former West Virginia State senator and delegate who worked as a general and vascular surgeon for nearly 25 years. He served in the West Virginia Legislature for 10 years, and he is now retired from politics as well as medicine.

Always a strong advocate for public health, Dr. Foster focused his legislative career on improving the health and lives of fellow West Virginians, working to, among other things, better regulate the pharmaceutical industry and address the negative impacts of substance abuse.

“It is humbling to be the recipient of this year’s award. Foster said via a video message. “Although I am well aware of the quality of rural health care in general, I have learned that in our state it is indeed a critical need.”

Dr. Foster said he felt like an imposter when compared to those who received the leadership award in prior years knowing their accomplishments. Coming to West Virginia 43 years ago, Dr. Foster appreciates the rural health system and what it has done for so many.

“It is my firm belief there is nothing more important to the future growth and development of the mountain state economy than improving the health of West Virginians,” Dr. Foster said. “And there is no entity doing more to make that happen than The Center for Rural Health Development under Sharon Lansdale leadership. It is particularly meaningful to be honored in this way. Thank you for making me feel so special.”

Saturday sessions centered around Creating a Culture of Health and Prosperity in Communities Throughout West Virginia and Appalachia. Monte Roulier, president of Community Initiatives, kicked off the morning talking about the legacy moment that we find ourselves in due to the COVID pandemic, and that getting back to normal will not be good enough if our goal is for all people and places to thrive.

Next, David Zuckerman, president of Health Anchor Network, spoke about Championing the Anchor Mission to Create Local Economies Where All Can Thrive. He outlined the anchor mission framework and the role that health care organizations and businesses can play to improve community health and create a community environment supportive of economic prosperity in their communities.

Then Brian Castrucci, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, engaged attendees with a presentation about Building Partnerships to Strengthen Public Health. He highlighted the importance of the partnerships and how all levels of leadership are needed if we are going to improve the health of West Virginians.

During lunch, attendees heard from Julia Fraustino, PhD and director of Public Interest Communication Research, and Dan Totzkay, PhD and assistant professor in West Virginia University’s Department of Communication Studies. They presented strategies to help participants navigate difficult conversations and avoid or effectively deal with resistance. They also focused on effective communication strategies for promoting health equity in a contemporary media and cultural ecosystem.

The final presentation came from Jim Hunt, a West Virginian and past president of the National League of Cities, titled, The Road Forward for Appalachian Communities and Organizations. He challenged attendees to think about what the opportunities for a new future for our state should look like, and how technology and monetary investments can help communities.

The weekend event was sponsored by The Center for Rural Health Development with joint sponsorship provided by CAMC Institute for Academic Medicine and with financial support CAMC, the W.Va. Office of Rural Health, Angel Flight East, the WV Beverage Association, and Marshall University School of Medicine. Scholarships were provided by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Highmark Foundation and the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation. Next year’s Leadership Forum will be held April 28 to 29, 2023, at Stonewall Resort and Conference Center.

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