Season 4 | Michelle Mills
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: Well, today's Rural Impact Extra Guest, a Woman Who Impacts, is someone whom I've known for a very long time, and I'm proud to say that, and someone who I have grown to appreciate and respect and admire with each year that it passes, Michelle Mills is the CEO of the Colorado Rural Health Center. One of only a few independent nonprofit State Offices of Rural Health and I hope that you get curious about what the State Offices of Rural Health do now that we're doing this special feature in recognition of National Rural Health Day.
Michelle's leadership and support of rural hospitals and clinics around the state is, just beyond critical and her deep commitment to rural health at the federal level is remarkable as well. Other titles Michelle holds includes the National Rural Health Association Board Secretary and Government Affair Committee Lead, National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services Committee Member.
Also, of course, a lead, a stakeholder for the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health. And you could be exhausted because the list goes on and on and on. But Michelle's their story, there's much more to be told. And with that is truly a privilege to have you join me today for this Rural Impact Extra Conversation.
Michelle Mills, welcome so thank you so much for being with us.
Michelle Mills: Oh my gosh, thank you so much, Michelle. It's really a pleasure and an honor to be here with you today. Thanks.
Michelle Rathman: Thank you. You know, people have heard me talk on this podcast about how challenging rural health is in these days, but I think it needs to be said out loud and often that there are individuals who are really working on behalf of rural communities that don't even know that their work is reaching them.
And so one of the questions I have for you that I want to start off with, Michelle, is why this work? Why rural health? All the things you could be doing with your life and your profession, why rural?
Michelle Mills: Oh, gosh. Well, I grew up in a rural community. And so, of course, that being said, you want to make sure that people are able to preserve the life that they had. I spent a long time working with urban facilities that don't necessarily need your help. They have large staffs and rural communities really want and need your help.
They're like a incubator for innovation. And I just really, feel a passion about preserving their way of life and making sure that there's access to care there in rural. And I, I love rural people.
Michelle Rathman: Yeah, you have a quite the geography of your rural landscape looks different than, someone who might be serving in the Northeast or the South. I mean, Colorado is a big state. And when you do, I know you do these tours and you're able to visit some of the, many of the locations. I envy you for that, but when you see the work and I think about our conversations during the time of the start of the pandemic and we spent time together.
And so much of your work for the last three years has been responsive and then proactive around this pandemic and the impact on rural hospitals. So tell me a little bit about how you feel when you see the impact of your work and, and that of your team, because I know you're the first to say, there is no way you do this alone.
You've got a mighty force behind you.
Michelle Mills: Yeah, I always say, we're 17 staff now, so we're very small, but mighty. And I equate ourselves a little bit to, what a rural community faces and a facility. Our staff wear many, many hats, super proud of them and the work they do. And I just, you know, when we see the difference that that is being made, even if you just are able to help one person, just imagine the impact and the outcomes that that's gonna impact for generations and just, I'm just so proud of that, and it gives me energy to, to keep moving forward and, and making things happen.
Michelle Rathman: And each one of those are a story all to themselves because, we have this saying, if you've seen one rural hospital, one rural community, you've seen one. And so you experience a lot. And with that said, there'll be a time, and I've had this conversation with others, somebody will have to fill the position, not your shoes, but the position.
And I, I guess I, one of the questions that always comes to mind is what advice do you give that person? You know, when they're faced with the same challenges and the roadblocks that you see out there, how do you prepare somebody to come in behind you and do the work, carry on the work, carry the torch, if you will for what you've established there?
Michelle Mills: Yeah, it's always, it's a question, as I get older, that I try to ponder and, and think about, and what would I tell my young self type of a thing. And I think one of the things is to be positive. I mean, you have to always see the positive in everything.
It's very easy to go down that path of negativity especially when you listen to the narrative of older, sicker, poorer, which is, of course, all true. But I think, people don't necessarily always see the positive impacts of things. And so positive, you have to have a lot of tenacity, you have to be flexible you know, and I would just say keep fighting and keep believing that the work that our organization does that all State Offices of Rural Health do across the country are making a difference in people's lives, making real differences.
Michelle Rathman: I think about the work that you have to do at the state level and I, you and I have had more contact around the national pieces of, of this world of rural health. Why is it important in your mind, if you're going to make an impact on anything with policy related, we do talk about all roads to quality of life are paved by policy.
It's kind of a broken record here. Why is it important, in your mind, to be so involved at a national level when, in fact, you are a State Office that services your state? Tell us a little bit about the catalyst for you being so involved on a national level. What's the impact that that's having at the state level?
Michelle Mills: Yeah. Yeah, thank you. Yeah, I wish everything could be changed at the state level, it would be, it would be maybe a lot easier. I don't know. But you know, to impact regulations, often that has to happen at a national level. And so for example, I have a huge passion around rural health clinics and wanting to make sure that they receive some type of funding to make that movement to value-based care.
So right now they don't receive any funding. There's not a massive lobbying power for them either. And so I feel like, if I can lend my voice to that, we have a lot of rural health clinics in Colorado and, really want to see them survive and not just survive, but, thrive.
And some help with funding, reducing regulations and stuff. All of that happens at the federal level.
Michelle Rathman: And it's a slow, slow, constant, effort. So with that said, you are working on a lot of projects. What are you working on right now that you're excited about?
Michelle Mills: Oh, my gosh. So thank you for that. I am so excited about this Rural Connectivity Project that we're working on. It started during COVID when our Medicaid agency was able to pull down some federal funding to start a data vault. And so in this data vault, we're gathering all pair claims data, we're gathering information from the health information exchange, and putting it into dashboards that can be usable data for our rural facilities, both hospitals and clinics to make and cause change.
And importantly, it includes technical assistance, really recognizing that, they don't have large staffs, they don't have, huge amounts of time to interpret data to, to cost change.
Michelle Rathman: And change, in this regard is so important because if you're standing still, you are going backwards in this industry. And I've heard your messages over the years of the data. You know, data driven decisions, you are the clearinghouse of data where that is concerned.
Okay, Michelle, so, you have a lot to, to look around and be inspired by just by the landscape. I've been to your beautiful state many times but I'm going to ask you to complete this sentence. I am inspired by..
Michelle Mills: I am inspired by people that care about their community, people that want to see their communities thrive and making sure that they get involved in ensuring there's that access to healthcare and wellbeing.
Michelle Rathman: okay. And then lastly, for National Rural Health Day this year, what are your, on your plans? I know you always have something up your sleeve. What are you guys doing this year in Colorado?
Michelle Mills: Yeah, so we always make a visit down to a local facility and try to celebrate with them. So we bring in cupcakes or cookies or something like that, that helps enjoin the community and really recognizing what the facility is doing. So we take a team of us down there and it's a lot of fun.
Unless it snows and that's not a lot of fun.
Michelle Rathman: And then it's a virtual fun.
Michelle Mills: Yeah, and that's really real but that's okay. So that's what we're doing this year And of course, we'll put out social media and things of that nature to celebrate as well.
Michelle Rathman: Awesome. Michelle Mills, CEO of the Colorado Rural Health Center, you do make an impact. You've made an impact on me for years. We're so grateful that you could join us for this special Rural Impact Extra episode. Be sure to subscribe and check out the Colorado Office of Rural Health. If you live in the state, you can understand a little bit more about the rural health landscape and that's important too.
So we'll talk to you again next time on another episode of The Rural Impact.