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Rural Health Heroes: The Arizona Rural Health Association’s 2017 Honorees

The Arizona Rural Health Association (AZRHA) honored two individuals and one community hospital for their outstanding contributions to the health and well-being of rural Arizonans. The honorees were announced on July 25 at the association’s annual conference in Flagstaff.

  • Alan Stephens, former director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office in Arizona, and former state senator, was honored with the Rural Health Professional of the Year award.
  • Tammy Gehris, who volunteersevery Friday at Benson Hospital, was honored with the Distinguished Martha Ortiz Volunteer award, named for the co-founder of the University of Arizona Mobile Health Program.
  • Copper Queen Community Hospital in Bisbee was honored as the Inspiring Rural Health Program.

Left to right: Ernest Weatherbee, acting director of the Rural Development Office; Robert Fleet, AZRHA immediate past president, Dianna Jennings, and  Alan Stephens.As director of the Rural Development Office, Alan Stephens obtained significant financial support advance health care programs in rural Arizona, said Dianna Jennings, special projects coordinator at the Rural Development Office. “In addition to his extensive support of healthcare initiatives, Alan also supported programs such as clean water and waste water, and decent housing, all of which have an effect on health,” Jennings said. During his time in the Arizona Senate, Stephens was a leading supporter of legislation leading to the creation of the Arizona Health Education Center (AHEC) program.


Left to right:  Hope Thomas, Tammy Gehris, and Kevin Driesen, AZRHA president.Tammy Gehris was recognized for her volunteer work at Tucson Medical Center’s satellite hospice program, housed inside Benson Hospital, a commitment she made following her mother’s death in 2010.  “Tammy’s commitment to giving back and providing much-needed support and care to others with similar end-of-life experiences is inspiring,” said Hope Thomas, TMC network director, who nominated Tammy for the AZRHA award. “Tammy is recognized as a great asset to the hospice patients and their families during a time of impending loss and grief.”


Left to right: Robert Fleet, Jim Dickson and Dan Derksen.               Copper Queen Community Hospital in Bisbee was honored for its quick response to the closure of Cochise Regional Hospital in Douglas in July 2015. Copper Queen pulled together staff expertise and resources to make sure the people of Douglas had an urgent care facility. The hospital was also recognized for its pioneering work in making specialty care available to rural patients through telemedicine technology, including telecardiology, teleconcussion, teleendocrinology, telebehavioral health, telepediatrics, telestroke, and teletrauma.  Dan Derksen, MD, professor and director of the Center for Rural Health at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, nominated Copper Queen for the AZRHA award.

About the Author

Alison Hughes's picture

Alison Hughes may have retired from her University of Arizona position six years ago, but she has not retired from her leadership role in the field of rural and public health.   A founding member of the Arizona Rural Health Association (AzRHA), Hughes has been an active board member since the inception of AzRHA around 1989.  In this capacity she recently led four annual leadership forums for youth living at the U.S.-Mexico border, and continues to advocate for better access to health care for rural residents of the state.  This year she chaired the AzRHA Awards Committee.   During her 26 years at the University of Arizona, Alison served in numerous capacities including,  Associate Director then Director, Rural Health Office, Associate Director for Outreach, Arizona Telemedicine Program, Chair of the Health Policy Concentration, Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and just prior to her retirement she founded the University’s new Center for Rural Health.


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