Greetings and Happy 2015,
What an honor that my first duty as NOSORH president is a Happy New Year message to you! I thought about using the opportunity to share my new year’s resolution, since you could hold me accountable and I would achieve amazing success. Right? No way… Although, Idaho SORH staff will tell you that my approach is from an opportunity perspective. I never initially say “no” to an idea or suggestion since it could lead to a great opportunity. Innovation, growth, new resources, and partnerships often start with a single idea or conversation. Even though the end result could be, “no thanks”, a willingness to listen, learn, and explore leads to new connections and opportunities to keep rural health at the forefront.
Idaho was recently awarded a four-year statewide healthcare innovation grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and our SORH has a vital presence at the table. Our goals are aligned with the Triple Aim and we will establish “virtual” patient centered medical homes in rural areas to improve access, quality, and population health. Idaho’s effort is well-aligned with our thought provoking discussion at the annual 2014 SORH/NOSORH meeting on topics such as epigenetics, population health, and social determinants of health. To further this dialogue, the NOSORH Educational Exchange committee, co-chaired by Scott Ekblad and Natalie Claiborne, will focus on innovation and other forward-thinking initiatives to help us look ahead at potential SORH opportunities.
I hope you will join me in thanking Alisa Druzba, 2014 President, for her outstanding service to NOSORH. Alisa will continue to serve as past-president and we very much appreciate her continued service. I hope you will also take a moment to thank NOSORH staff and NOSORH volunteers, including regional representatives, committee chairs, and other board members, for their service.
I’m sure 2015 will be as fast-paced as 2014, so hold on tight and don’t forget to say, “yes” (at least tentatively so), to the next idea that comes your way.
Back to January Branch
Mary Sheridan has been the director of the Idaho SORH for 10 years. Prior to that, she worked asa hospital registered nurse for 14 years before coming to the state to work its poison control office in 1995.
You’ve been a long-time director of a small SORH. What are the challenges?
We are all really highly focused on customer service–someone answers the phones here 8-5:00, M-F. We try to make sure our phones never go to voicemail. If someone is on the phone, the call rolls down to another staffer. It’s really rare that someone would call and no one would pick up the phone. When there’s a conference and we’re all there, we’ve sometimes set it to go to someone’s cell phone and they can answer it there. All our staff supports that and it’s important to everybody here.
The other challenge with having a small staff is that everyone has so much to do. I worry sometimes that I’m asking people to do too much. I don’t worry so much about myself–but I worry about the people around me. And there’s the capacity issue. Our office has two SORH FTEs, including me, plus one PCO FTE, a part-time temporary position, and an administrative assistant, responsible for six federal grants and state programs. We have to ask ourselves if we can we add one more project or one more grant and do it well. For example, there recently was a dental health workforce federal grant opportunity–95% of Idaho is a designated HPSA in dental health. Although I hoped to apply, my supervisor said “you need an FTE for that and one doesn’t currently exist.” So there’s always that question of how many more things can you take on and do well.
What are the benefits?
You get to learn so much about so many different things. I think of it sometimes as getting to be both a generalist and an expert. Maybe your work is focused on the SHIP and SORH grants, but you also have a hand in 3Rnet, or you get to learn about HPSA data collection. When someone in the office is out and you answer their phone, you have the opportunity to answer a question that
might be outside your typical job responsibilities. You get to develop new areas of expertise–you’re working to the top of your game, taking new challenges, looking for opportunities for new projects. If you worked in a bigger office and your job was exclusively Flex, you may not get to learn all these other things. And we get to really know each other and our stakeholders. We take a few minutes (every day) to check in with each, on a personal level. If someone is working way too hard, I can say, “Why don’t you get out of here for awhile?” I think people appreciate that.
What in your background has allowed you to meet these challenges? And how do you foster flexibility in your staff?
Because we’re small, we communicate on so many levels, and people can see the value and importance of what they do. That’s critical to our success. Everyone here is so important and so valued–and we appreciate each other so much. It’s so great to know that someone else is answering my phone. It’s great to know that we have that camaraderie.
One of the things that has helped me is going out into rural Idaho and meeting stakeholders, going into clinics, meeting staff, seeing their challenges and making sure our grants are aligned with their needs. That looking, asking, listening and caring, and coming back to see what you can do to help–I can see some alignment there with having been an intensive care nurse. It takes a level of
empathy and compassion.
I love my job–I love the interactions. It is the perfect match for me. I’m really lucky
NNOHA, NOSORH Information (Smith, Hansen)
FIND Program – Iowa (Heckenlaible)