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MDH and partners honor rural health care professionals

MDH and its partners recognized three dedicated health care professionals who have made lasting or significant contributions to the health and well-being of their rural communities at the Minnesota Rural Health Conference in Duluth.

The Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Rural Health Association and Duluth-based National Rural Health Resource Center presented the 2018 Minnesota Rural Health Awards to the following honorees:

• Donna Erbes, health services director at the Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council Family Planning Program in Worthington received the Rural Health Hero Award.

• The Caring Hands Dental Clinic in Alexandria received the Rural Health Team Award.

• Dr. Michael Zakula, retired orthodontist from Hibbing, received the Rural Health Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Health happens where we live, learn, work and play,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “Our rural health honorees exemplify the many ways people collaborate together to improve the health of rural communities.”

The Minnesota Rural Health Conference presents these awards each year. The Minnesota Department of Health's Office of Rural Health and Primary Care, the Minnesota Rural Health Association and the National Rural Health Resource Center host the conference. This year’s conference focused on "Communities: The heart of health."

More information about award winners is available online at Minnesota Rural Health Conference.

Rural Health Hero Award

Nurse Donna Erbes received the 2018 Minnesota Rural Health Hero Award. As the Health Services Director of the Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council (SMOC) Family Planning Program, Erbes is a leader in the field of reproductive health care in Minnesota. Recognizing that access to health care is a health disparities issue, Erbes expanded SMOC’s service area from eight to 15 counties during her tenure. Knowing that rural areas must actively work to recruit and maintain their health care workforce, Erbes volunteers as a preceptor for aspiring registered nursing students and has served on advisory boards for various Minnesota colleges and universities.

Rural Health Team Award

Caring Hands Dental Clinic received the 2018 Minnesota Rural Health Team Award. A designated critical access dental provider, Caring Hands provides dental care and a dental home to Minnesota Health Care Programs recipients in 34 counties across the state of Minnesota. Twelve years ago, Caring Hands began as a volunteer group of local citizens from Alexandria. Since then it has added fulltime dentists and created innovative programs to serve those covered by Minnesota Health Care Programs and the uninsured.

In the past three years, Caring Hands has treated over 2,000 dental emergencies and provided 10,000 free toothbrushes to patients and food shelves. In addition to their clinic work, Caring Hands has created the following innovative programs to serve additional oral health needs in the area: the Mobil Outreach Hygiene Clinics, the More Smiles Program, the Head Start and Nursing Home Outreach Hygiene Program, and free school programs such as the Open Wide Program.

Rural Health Lifetime Achievement Award

Dentist Michael Zakula received the 2018 Minnesota Rural Health Lifetime Achievement Award for his years of clinical practice in Hibbing as an orthodontist and his tireless volunteerism on behalf of organized dentistry and rural health. Having spent the majority of his career as one of the few orthodontists north of the Twin Cities, Zakula has worked tirelessly to make sure rural residents have access to oral health care. He has been instrumental in creating scholarship and loan forgiveness opportunities for dentists who, in exchange, work in communities that would not otherwise have access to dentists. Zakula was instrumental in establishing the Hibbing Community College Dental Clinic which has served as a training facility for dental assistants, dental hygienists and dental students since its establishment. Zakula accepted an appointment to the Minnesota Rural Health Advisory Committee in 2015 and has helped provide a voice for rural Minnesotans with limited access to dental care.


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