Series 4 | Karen Madden
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: I am so thrilled to be joined by Karen Madden, Director of the New York State Office of Rural Health, and that's housed within the New York State Department of Health. And I am especially, and I mean that, excited because Karen is kicking off our very special episode dedicated to women who impact. And we're doing this in recognition of National Rural Health Day.
Real quick though, but for those of you listening who don't already know this, Karen was the brains behind the idea that rural health should have its own day. As she knows that I agree with that. Karen Madden, one of my favorite Women Who Impact, welcome, we're so glad to have you here today.
Karen Madden: Thank you, Michelle. Thank you for having me. It's an honor.
Michelle Rathman: Well all right. So we're having conversations with Women Who Impact, you know, I, I tell people I named this company Impact! and the podcast Impact for a reason. We make an impact, whether it's positive or negative, and you certainly do. I want people to know all about the work that you're doing there, but first I want to ask why this work?
I mean, rural health. It's a very specific area within this entire industry. So why rural for you? What got you hooked, if you will?
Karen Madden: Well, there's a short answer and a long answer to that, so we'll, I'll focus on the short answer for you. Honestly, I finished grad school with a degree in health policy and needed a job, and the Office of Rural Health was the first job offer that I received. So it was pretty simple, but I figured too, I grew up in a rural community, upstate New York, and I knew that I wanted to work in a place that worked on access to healthcare issues.
So it kind of seemed, even at that young age, that that would be a place to, where I could at least begin to try to do that. I quickly found out that it was, it was my place, and I found my professional home at a very young age at an early point in my career. So I was very fortunate to be able to do that.
But really the answer is you know, the reason I wanted to work on healthcare access issues. It was because I don't think that your access to healthcare should be determined by the place where you live or the place where you're born. So, it's pretty simple, really. Rural health and there's lots of ways to do that work, but rural health is it's very, very special and it's very unique and it's compelling.
And over the course of my career, I've had the opportunity to work on many, many different issues that impact access to care. And I've been able to do that with policy leaders, both at the local, state, and federal levels. And I've, you know, and particularly with the national work that you and I have done together, I've hopefully been able to have a little bit of an impact, but I've also been able to work with really, really smart and intelligent and mission driven people, and that, that's very rewarding, and I'm also I'm very, very fortunate to call many of them really good friends.
So that, that's why rural
Michelle Rathman: Isn't that the truth? It is. It's a family. And you know, we are in all sorts of different places, but I think what's interesting for me, it's just learning that, you know, we know that rural looks different from state to state. And I don't think a lot of people really recognize how rural New York really is.
And you are, and I've had opportunities, to be in some of the rural places. And I have come to learn about your work, which is different than other State Offices of Rural Health. I mean, you each have very, you know, you share the same lane in many ways. You have to step in, in a lot of ways too, that like when the call comes, even if it's not, exactly in your job description, if you will, because it's just this, you know, demand meet the needs and meet the demands.
So when you see the impact of your work and all the areas that you touch I know you're not the kind of like, let's sit down and do a kumbaya moment, but how does the impact of the work make you feel, when you've been through some really challenging times, which, I know that you experienced some of the most challenging times in response to COVID, for example, and you had a hand in responding to that.
How do you feel about that?
Karen Madden: Well, there's a few different answers to that as well. One, I feel proud of the work that we do in health policy and in rural health. So that's, that's the first, but I think too, when I see the impact, I feel tremendously gratified and it makes all of the daily frustrations worth it.
We work in a, within a state and a federal bureaucracy that sometimes is a little bit cumbersome and can be a little bit frustrating and sometimes it's hard to, when you're in the middle of that in your day to day work, it's hard to really see, what the impacts could be and what the difference that you might be making is.
So when you're able to get out in the communities and see it, it's just, it's tremendously gratifying and it makes all those frustrations just kind of go away. And it really just, it makes me very proud.
Michelle Rathman: Yeah. I've never heard someone in your position say, if you people only knew how hard I had to work for it, because that's the expectation is that you are and you're serving that population. All right. So another question I've been asking Women Who Impact, because this is something that I imagine you ponder as well.
You wear a lot of hats and someday somebody will step into the position. I never say fill your shoes because there's no way somebody could have your life experiences and share those experiences. But someday somebody will have to fill the position or multiple positions that you hold right now. What advice do you have for them so that they can carry forth what you work so hard to accomplish on behalf of these folks?
And what should they expect? What advice do you have? And what should they expect?
Karen Madden: I'll start with what they should expect. I will say that what they should expect is that, you know, any, really anything that you do in life is what you make of it. So, if you give it all of your effort, you'll get more out of it, for sure. But you can also expect that you will at times feel like you have more losses than you have wins.
And that it can be a little bit frustrating. But that, if you keep at it and you do the work that you will see the impact, and those impacts will, as I said before, be tremendously gratifying. My advice would be and it's good that you're asking me this now as opposed to when we were working on the pandemic because I
Michelle Rathman: That would have been a run.
Karen Madden: I would have had different advice for anybody wanting to get into health policy or public health at that point.
I'm just kidding. But my advice would be to remember why you do the work and why you want to do the work. And, if your reasons for why are more than just because you, you have a job to do, then you'll get more out of it. And I would say, be flexible. Keep an open mind. Don't be afraid to admit that you're wrong.
And, get lots of input from lots of people and listen. And I think, say the thing out loud that the idea that you might have, you know, as you know, that's how National Rural Health Day came about, right? I said, “Hey, why don't we have a day for rural health?” And everybody said, “Oh, that's a great idea.”
And I said, “Really? Is it?” And here we are this many years later, but you know, say the thing out loud, even if it seems outlandish. And then I think, I, my advice to anybody even, in life just generally and anybody wanting to do this work and, but just generally is just to be kind and have perspective of, and try to understand the other person's perspective.
Michelle Rathman: Kindness. What a concept. I'm right there with you. I feel like that is something that we could all, that's something we could all take with us no matter what position or job or career that we have. All right. So tell us now, Karen, what is something that you're excited about? I mean, again, there's a lot of challenges.
I know we've got a lot of policy things going on nationally, state level, and so forth. But what are you working on that has you excited?
Karen Madden: Well, we have a new focus on health equity and addressing health disparities. And it's something that we've always kind of worked towards, but now we're really calling it that and working towards that. So... I'm excited to see how we incorporate that more into our programs particularly while we're rural hospitals for one, we've been working on our critical access, with our critical access hospitals for the past year on health equity projects, but also with our rural health networks.
I'm excited to bring some resources to them so that they can begin to address health inequities and health disparities in their communities. So, I'm just excited to see what comes from that. I don't know what that looks like right now, but I think it's an open slate. So I think that there's, lots of things that we can do.
So I think that
Michelle Rathman: Really? Yeah. I'm really glad to hear that. I mean, I see more and more and more, we've talked about it for years. You know, Karen, we've talked about social drivers or social determinants of health. And now that I think it's kind of morphing and people are seeing it, that is so much a part of the equity, it's not just health care, it's access to all that, which is responsible for that, which is a different conversation, but it's really good to hear that that's a focus.
And I think hopefully other states are doing the exact same thing. And once everyone has a really good model that we share it far and wide so that we don't have to go backwards. All right. So the last question I have for you is, I'm going to ask you to complete this sentence. I am inspired by…
Karen Madden: In my work, I'm inspired by the people who do this work in rural communities. It's not easy work. And the people that I work with around the state and people I've seen doing this work in other states at the community level are very, very driven and committed people and they are innovative and they're resourceful and they do this work for the right reasons.
And it's often frustrating for them, but they make a lot of impact in their communities. So I'm really inspired by them. You know, the work that I do at the state level is a little bit, you know, it's a step or two removed from what they're doing at the community level. We have, we, we develop the policy, and we have the programs, and we provide the resources and the technical assistance for them.
And one thing that I've tried to do to make their jobs easier is to give them as much flexibility as possible. You know, we work in a bureaucracy and we have statutes and we have regulations, but I always tried to design our programs so that they have the maximum flexibility to be able to adjust, to meet their community needs and to be innovative because, needs, these are different from place to place.
And successful solutions are different from place to place. So we've always tried to give them the flexibility so that they can be innovative to meet their community needs. And I hope that, I don't know that we've always been successful in doing that, but I think sometimes we get it right.
Michelle Rathman: Yeah, I think that's a great way to end this because, this podcast, our tagline is Connecting the Dots Between Policy and Rural Everything. And as we end each episode, we want to remind folks of that. What your policy work does makes possibilities for people.
And I really think it's important for us to understand the women and the men, the people who are behind this work and you being the person who believes that. Rural health needs a day of its own, and look what was the mission when we were working together? Transform a moment into a movement and I, and I, dare I say I do believe that has been accomplished.
So congratulations. Karen, it's always great to see you. Reach out anytime. We're glad to have you back to talk about policy. That's my favorite subject, believe it or not, besides anything doodle. But other than that, Karen, thank you so much. Happy National Rural Health Day to you and to everybody. And we'll talk to you again on a new episode of the Rural Impact.
Karen Madden: Thank you, Michelle, and thank you for all the work that you do as well.
Michelle Rathman: Thank you.