Series 4 | Alana Knudson
Michelle Rathman: Hello and welcome to a very special Rural Impact Extra episode honoring Women Who Impact in recognition of National Rural Health Day, which of course is the third Thursday of November every year. I'm Michelle Rathman and I mean it when I say, and I really do, I'm grateful to have you join us, and I'm so appreciative for the shares, the comments, and the nice notes that we're getting from listeners.
Again, I really do appreciate you. And I want you to know that all of us here involved with the show are doing our best to help connect the dots between policy and the issues that matter to rural people and communities. And we have so many new series coming your way. You're just going to really want to stay tuned and subscribe. Don't forget to do that.
Now for our return listeners you know that my everyday work is in the space of rural health. And over the course of about, you know, a few decades, I've had the privilege of meeting, learning from, and collaborating with hundreds of women who are, there are some words to describe them, and here are a few fiercely talented, exceptionally wise. Tenacious and empowering and for this episode, we thought let's talk to a few of them and have them join us to tell us about their real impact and celebrate the contributions they make to the Power of Rural movement and none of them were thrilled that I was going to celebrate them, but that's too bad.
That's what we're going to do. And for this National Rural Health Day, we invited Karen Madden and Karen is the Director of the New York State Office of Rural Health. And she happens to be the person whose idea it was for Rural Health to have its own day. Go figure. We also were thrilled to sit down with Lisa Davis, Director of the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health. I mean, just really remarkable contributions. I can't wait for you to hear from her.
Michelle Mills. Michelle is the Chief Executive Officer of the Colorado Rural Health Center. Very unique Office of Rural Health. I can't wait for you to learn more about her. And I also want to let you know that Michelle is a very dear friend of mine. And finally, another mega star in this field I got to sit down with Alana Knudsen and Alana is the director of the NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis.
And as I said, each of them sat down and they were gracious with their time to share some of their insights. So with that said, I invite you to get comfortable and get to know these four Women Who Impact.
Michelle Rathman: We are continuing our special rural impact extra feature Women Who Impact in recognition of National Rural Health Day. It's an honor to introduce you to another woman whose work is truly empowering rural, Alana Knudson, a national leader in rural health research and capacity development and the Director of the NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis. You should know that Alana has over 25 years of experience, so much wisdom, leading health services, research projects, and implementing and evaluating public health programs with expertise.
And of course, rural health, my favorite subject, health equity, public health services, research, telehealth and evaluation. And with all that said, the reason we've selected to honor Alana here for National Rural Health Day is her very deep commitment to researching the root causes of rural health and equity.
Alana, welcome to the Rural Impact Extra. I am honored to have you here with me today.
Alana Knudson: Well, thank you so much for inviting me. I'm honored to be a guest.
Michelle Rathman: Thank you. Okay, so you are in our series and we have selected four empowering Women Who Impact. And so with that, I have issued each of you a set of questions to talk about because we know and because you and I run into each other in different circles. We know that it's quite easy fallback plan for us to focus on our challenges.
And one of the things I think is so important for people to know and to get to know are individuals such as yourself who are working to shift the conversation from challenges to solutions. So, as I said, you've got 25 years that equals, I don't know, what is that? And, you know, in wisdom years, who knows the answer to that equation.
But I'm going to ask you this question. I know some of your background, but share with our audience, why this work, why rural health?
Alana Knudson: Rural Health is who I am. I grew up in frontier county in North Dakota, fewer than three people per square mile. There were more cattle in my community than there were people. And I was actually born in what is now Critical Access Hospital. So my roots are in rural. And I have a great affinity for rural communities.
And I want to do what I can to make a positive difference in advancing health and wellbeing in the places where I grew up.
Michelle Rathman: And I guess one of the questions I, 'cause sometimes it's easy to just not stop and take stock of, the influence that you have in the work that you're doing. So, can you describe how you feel when you see the impact of your work and action? 'Cause it's one thing to read about in paper you've received several awards and recognition, but how does it make you feel when you see the impact of your work in the communities that you serve every day?
Alana Knudson: Well, I feel so grateful that I have the opportunity to do this work and to make a difference. And my parents instilled in me that, you know, we are to leave this world a better place than where we found it. And being able to see a program that can help bring services to people that didn’t have services before or they can improve health outcomes because now they can have access to oral health and just to make a difference in a single person's life, but using policy to make a difference in the whole population. That's exciting that gets me up every single morning
Michelle Rathman: Yeah, and I love that you use the P word, we're all about policy here, and we, we say very often, and you've heard me say, all roads to health equity are paved by policy. And your research helps to influence that. I mean, without the data, without the research, it's very difficult to make informed decisions, has it not?
Alana Knudson: Absolutely, I often tell rural communities when I go, I use the data to help inform. Because data needs to be translated into information that can then be used for action. And so I really look at all the work I do, be it research or evaluation, to have a policy foundation, because whatever we learn is either going to influence payment model, or it's going to influence ongoing funding of a program, or it's going to provide an opportunity, for example, to expand such as workforce providing more opportunities for people to be able to contribute to rural health. But one of the things that I have noticed about rural policy is that people often ask me, why are you working in rural? For those who don't have the same perspective that we do. and I remind them and this is something our Walsh Center uses as our tag if you will. Rural is important because not only one in five people live there, but rural is the source of our water most of our food energy extraction and recreation. It also has a disproportionate number of military veterans and active service members in rural communities.
So rural is vital to our country. What policies are so important about rural in terms of its relationship to, the other four-fifths of the country in terms of population. I remind them that we have a really strong sense of interdependence. I have never been to a meeting where a person hasn't eaten.
And they don't enjoy eating, to your point, your love for cooking. Without rural America, our urban communities are not going to thrive. So, I look at all of the work we do in rural and the data that we are able to present in terms of our findings and being able to share that information with policymakers as a real opportunity to ensure that our rural communities are vibrant and continue to have vitality and innovation so that we have a stronger country because we have a strong rural foundation.
Michelle Rathman: Everything you just said, it is the thread that we can't deny runs through all of us, every community. Oh my gosh. Okay. So, my next question for you is, this is a tough one. There'll never be another, you, there will be somebody at some point hopefully, who will step into the role, I won't say your shoes, but step into your role.
So, what advice do you have for them? I mean. Rural leaders struggle with the question of who will take my place, who will have the same passion? So, what advice do you have for that person who might be thinking, sounds like a cool job sounds like a really great thing to be able to focus my professional pursuits on?
What do they need to know?
Alana Knudson: Well, first and foremost, whenever I have the good fortune of adding a person to my team especially a person who may not have as much experience as I do, I always say that I am hiring my future boss. Because my job, first and foremost, is to ensure the continuity that we have rural health research and evaluators that will live far beyond me and will be able to contribute in ways that I can't even imagine.
So, recognizing that we're in this for the long haul, but if somebody actually asked me for my advice about this work, I would say the most important thing is to meet people where they are and listen to them. And I can't tell you how many times I have gone to communities where I have thought based on a set of data that I was going to encounter, taught opportunities or challenges in those communities. And as I had the opportunity to listen, I learned very different regarding what their priorities were. And so, in order to really be effective in this work, we need to be out in rural communities.
We need to meet people where they are. We need to listen, and we need to build relationships and trust so that we help them achieve their goals. It isn't just about us achieving ours in terms of our research. It's about helping them to advance their priorities in rural communities.
Michelle Rathman: Excellent. Thank you for that. And then I have two more questions for you. And I think number one is what are you working on that is exciting to you. What do you've got cooking? We're almost at the end of the year of 2023, if you can believe it. I can't sometimes. So, what's in your, in front of you?
What's in your rear-view mirror?
Alana Knudson: Well, it's really exciting. I am working on a study that is including nursing homes, and home and community-based services. And it's actually something that I have been interested in since before I even started in this work. And when you have a chance to really identify what those opportunities are in rural communities to help people age in place, that is a very rewarding experience because we are looking at not only addressing the needs of our baby boomer population that is, starting down the aging in place route, but we're also thinking ahead. What's going to happen in the next 10 to 20 years as we see generation X retire or millennials?
What might be services that we can't even imagine now? Because one of the concerns we have is building up an infrastructure that won't meet the needs in 10 or 20 years. So, also thinking ahead, it's always fun to watch where the ball is being thrown.
Michelle Rathman: Yeah. And I am so glad you're focusing on that because there's not a community that I'm working with right now, at all that is not challenged in some way, shape or form with that big question, what to do. And it cannot just be a band aid. It has got to be a long term. And nothing that's, anything that's long term has to be sustainable, so.
Wow. All right. My last thing is to have you complete this sentence. I am inspired by…
Alana Knudson: I am inspired by the many amazing people who work in rural communities to improve the health and well-being. It isn't just public health, health care, behavioral health, oral health. It's our educators, it's our business community, it's our ag, it's our extension folks. It's the whole array of community that really contributes to the well-being of the people who live there.
Michelle Rathman: Thank you so much, Alana Knudson, the NORC Walsh Center Director for Rural Health Analysis. I am, again, just so honored to have you here. I'm inspired by your work and I just look forward to many more conversations. We have a lot of candid, courageous, enlightening conversations. I thank you so much for that.
And to everybody out there, thank you for listening to The Rural Impact. And be sure to celebrate National Rural Health Day. We will see you soon. Take care.