Season 4 | Lisa Davis
Michelle Rathman: ello 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.
You know, one of the best things about doing this work is the opportunity to introduce you to people who are making a direct impact, and not just on one rural community, but hundreds of them. And today's Rural Impact Extra Guest is most certainly one of these people. And so I have to tell you, it's my privilege to introduce you to one of our four Women Who Impact in recognition of National Rural Health Day, which is the reason why we are doing these special features.
Her name is Lisa Davis. Lisa is the Director of the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health, Great State of Pennsylvania, and an Outreach Associate Professor on Health Policy and Administration at Penn State. She is responsible for several the overall direction and leadership of the State Office of Rural Health.
On a national, state, and university level, Lisa serves on a wide range of Board of Directors. I can promise you that. She's super busy that way. Also so many advisory committees, task forces of focusing on rural health policy, rural health outreach and research, economic development and education, as well as vulnerable populations and specific health issues such as oral health and cancer.
And for anyone who works in the rural health space, you know, those are very prevalent. I met Lisa many years ago doing some of the work that I was doing with the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health. She is a fierce advocate for rural health policy. And I have to say one of the kindest, funniest women I know.
There's some things we're not going to talk about in this podcast, but I'm so happy to have you here, Lisa. Thank you so much for joining us.
Lisa Davis: Michelle, thank you so much. Your introduction was really lovely and I hope that I am deserving of it. And I'm extremely honored to be part of this wonderful group of women whom you are interviewing, all of whom I know quite well and have also known for a long time. So, thank you and thanks for all the work that you are doing to promote rural health.
Michelle Rathman: Well, you know, we try and I say some days if you didn't laugh, you'd cry. And so the things that we talk about, we say often on here, they're not light subjects, but we really hope to enlighten. And so what I want to do through this is Rural Impact Extra series is just really introduce our guests top eople in your position who are making an impact, like I said, not just on one community, but Pennsylvania is a very big state.
You have a very large rural population, but before we get into that, talk a little bit about why, there's that know the why, what's your why, why work, why rural health work specifically, what did it for you?
Lisa Davis: Well, I'll try and make this as brief as possible and please help me out if I go too long. But when I got out of college, my, my first few jobs as a young professional were working with extremely vulnerable populations where are individuals experiencing schizophrenia.
And then I moved into working with individuals who were both schizophrenic, and who had been incarcerated, and I was working with them, helping them plot the next path post release from jail. And then I left human service and needed a break, and after going to graduate school, the first job that I interviewed for, where I was the only person who interviewed for the job was as the first full time staff person in this organization that I'd sort of heard about but didn't really know much about called the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health.
So when I interviewed for the position, I thought you know, I mean yeah, I want to go into public health now I want to serve the underserved, but I don't really want to do this job. During the interview I realized that as the first full time staff person I would have the ability to develop a program that I felt would make a significant difference in the state.
And I came out of that interview thinking, I don't get this job, I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do. And of course, I was the only one they interviewed, and they said, well, if you don't take the job, I guess, well, ask somebody else. But, as soon as I started in my job, I, several things happened simultaneously.
One was, I realized that the people I was meeting who were doing the work in communities and across the state and across the nation were the smartest people I had ever met. They had such passion and strong vision for what they felt were the solutions to address these intractable longstanding issues that we're all facing.
And so they were smart and passionate and well educated and enormous fun and so connected to each other. So that was one reason that I wanted to work was that I did not want to leave that group. I felt like I could learn so much from them. The other was that I had grown up especially when I was in high school in a rural community and went to college in a rural area and really spent a lot of time knowing people who were living in what I would consider coming from my nice middle class solid background to be vulnerable situations and was always impressed that they just kept on keeping on. They made the difference where they could, they got their families, they did the things that they needed to do, they committed to their communities.
So, shortly after I started with the office, I drove down to Washington, D.C., for the very first Rural Health Meeting. And I drove through rural Pennsylvania, and I know that this sounds rather silly, but I cried the whole way down as I passed through these small towns and these isolated houses out in the middle of nowhere, I thought, I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that you have access to health care services.
So, that's my background. Here I am all these many years later.
Michelle Rathman: It doesn't sound silly. I will share with you, I've had the same experience and I've had the privilege of working in, I had, I spoke to a group on Friday of first year residents, primary care residents through the RMED program. Okay? University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford. And I think about so many communities I've gone to and you take a look at, the beautiful wonders of the rural landscape. At the same time, the recognition. that, access is challenging and so, no I understand that.
I guess my next question, it's a perfect transition is just so the vision of you driving and seeing the need and then knowing that the programs, the research that you do.The money that you advocate for, the resources, the investments that you advocate for. Describe for us a little bit, if you can, about how you feel when you see that, the impact of your work and it might be the fuel that keeps you going, huh?
Lisa Davis: It is. And, there, there are so many experiences. I can recount one for you. We had spent, I don't know, six years, a lifetime, however long it had been, trying to get the State Office of Rural Health Program reauthorized. And when it was reauthorized, at 11:59 on New Year's Eve, I had a group of teenagers in the car with me and I was taking them to a New Year's Eve party and I, I stopped in the parking lot of this shopping center and I said it was, I was listening to, to the Senate debate this. And I said, I'm telling you girls right now that this is what happens when you have a group of committed people who have come together and worked day after day, year after year with the same consolidated message. This is what happens. This means that programs that can continue. That serve populations that are in need.
So, that's just one very small situation. And I can tell you that they were 12 years old, and they could have cared less. But you know, I think it's so important to, to identify the issues, make sure that the message is clear, that it's organized, and that it's communicated at the local, state, and national levels.
And I can also say, on other levels, The work that we do, I find that we do not have the appreciation for what it means in the communities. We hear from community leaders all the time that say, “Your office has meant so much to the work that we do. We are so grateful to you for everything you've done.”
Now I'm so glad for that. But on the other hand, that's just the work that we do. We're just doing our jobs, right?
I mean, the fact that we're tremendously passionate about it makes all the difference. And I can also tell you, and this isn't actually my success, but I work with a group that has been working in the state for 11 years to have reinstated the Medicaid dental benefit for adults.
11 years they've been working on this. And just today, the Senate and the House in Pennsylvania are considering legislation to reinstate that benefit. So, the difference that that makes for those who need those services is immeasurable.
Michelle Rathman: Yeah.
And it speaks volumes to, we throw around the term advocacy all the time, but, it's an action and you've answered it some already, but I'll say this, one of the challenges that many organizations have is just who will walk, who will pick up the torch, who will take the baton.
And so for the person who will someday be in your role, certainly never be able to fill your shoes, but to be in your role. What advice do you have? Because we know that we have to, we have to nurture and mentor those who will be coming, in next. So what words of wisdom do you have for that person who will go on that job interview
Lisa Davis: Say, I don't think I want this job, and then come
Michelle Rathman: and
leave, and leave there with the job, you know?
Lisa Davis: Yeah. You know, a couple of things. One is, absolutely every single thing that our office does is done in collaboration and partnership. Because we can't do it by ourselves. So, this adult Medicaid benefit. That is actually done by another group here in the state, but I just came off as chair of their board, and we work really closely with them, and that is a win for everyone in Pennsylvania, but especially in rural Pennsylvania.
So, I think one word of advice is absolutely do not think that you, or this office, can do it on your own. Absolutely, we are a big part of some things, we are a small part of others, but it makes a difference.
And, then, going back to some more basics, when I first started in this job, and I would be at these meetings, I was petrified. Right? Completely petrified to open my mouth. And so, every time I would say something, which was about, once every ten hours. I would preface it with, you know, well, you know, this was a long time ago. You know, better to be thoughtful, be better, to remain silent and be thoughtful than to speak in a resolve doubt, right?
So that I was somehow putting out a caveat that I really didn't know anything. And so, you know, over the years I did gain some knowledge and so on. But I think one of the words of advice is that any field, especially this one that we're working in, it is almost impossible to know everything. And things change all the time, all the time.
And it is impossible to expect yourself to know everything. What is really important is to know the basics, to have a good depth and breadth of knowledge, and to know where to go and ask for information. Well, who has the resources? Who is the smartest and the brightest in topic X? So okay to say, I don't know. So those are some of the basics that I would take for folks, anyone coming into any type of leadership position. And the last is listen, don't speak, listen. Because others have so much to say, and even for those who tend to speak a lot, and you know, have one nugget for every 500 words they say, there are still nuggets in there.
And every single person should be respected and honored for what they know.
Michelle Rathman: in all, in all things. All right, so, and my last question to you is this finish the sentence, I am inspired by…
Lisa Davis: By the staff, here in my office, for one thing, I think that it is essential to hire really smart people to give them the parameters. And to let them go for it because they bring so much to the work that we do. I am inspired all the time with what my colleagues across the country are doing, whether it's State Office of Rural Health or another group, I am so inspired by them.
The same with everyone here in the state who I work with.
And finally, I am not just inspired. I am awed. By the work that our communities do, the resilience that they have and the fact that they find solutions either because of or in spite of any sort of state, local, federal regulation, policy and funding.
Michelle Rathman: Well, those are some inspiring words to live by. It has been such a, an honor to spend this time with you, Lisa Davis, the Office of Rural Health in Pennsylvania. National Rural Health Day, you know, they say the whole goal here is to transform a moment into a movement and the work that you all are doing there in the state and the way that you're leading us with research and advocacy certainly is of movement proportions.
So... As always, it's great to see you. Thank you so much for your time. And to all of you you'll hear from more Women Who Impact and we encourage you to subscribe and join us for our regular episodes. We've got so much coming your way. We'll talk to you again the next time on The Rural Impact.