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The Power of Rural: A Virtual Road Trip Around Arizona

Arizona’s strength in rural is our many partnerships.  Arizona is the 6th largest state in the U.S. by area, and over 81.8 percent of all Arizona land is state, federal or tribal controlled; there is a lot of area to cover.  Plus, there is a lot of great work going on in all regions of Arizona, and we thought “let’s share this, let’s go on a “Virtual Road Trip” Via a webinar.  We reached out to folks and before we knew it, 12 groups volunteered to share their vision. 

And on November 21, 2019, we started our “Virtual Road Trip” in Tucson. 

Daniel Derksen, MD, Director of the Arizona Center for Rural Health, and Acting Director for the Arizona Area Health Education Center was delighted to take the wheel on our Virtual Road Trip with more than 250 participants from all over Arizona. He also shared how we are a “tri-factor” organization, getting resources to rural areas, and making best practices known across Arizona. In addition, the Arizona Center for Rural Health hosts several programs supported by state and federal funds.

From the Center for Rural Health, we went across the UArizona Campus to meet with Ronald S. Weinstein, MD, Founding Director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program, and Co-director for the Southwest Telehealth Resource Center.  Dr. Weinstein shared the mission of the two programs and described their rural roots and mission.  ATP’s mission is to be a resource throughout Arizona and the Southwest, by modernizing healthcare through the use of advanced technology.  The main focus is to work with rural communities to build networks by partnering with rural communities, to promote and help with the implementation of healthcare services, diversity, and commitments, to the full spectrum of educational programs.

Next, we traveled 247 miles to Somerton, Arizona, where Amanda Aguirre, President and CEO of the Regional Center for Border Health, described the center’s commitment to rural.  RCBH’s focus is on improving quality of life for those on the US-Mexico border by increasing accessibility to quality training and affordable health care.  They service La Paz, Mohave, and Yuma counties. 

We next traveled 312 miles to Nogales, Arizona, and visited Gail Emrick, Executive Director of the Southeast Arizona Area Health Education Center.  Gail shared how her programs are making an impact on their community, by introducing high school students and others interested in careers in health care. Their three pillar programs to accomplish their mission are the future Health Leaders program; Medstart, a program developed to interest high school students in careers in healthcare; First responders in Rio Rico, and student training opportunities programs. 

112 miles from Nogales is another border community: Douglas, Arizona.  There we caught up with Floribella Redondo, co-founder and executive director of the Arizona Community Health Workers Association, Inc., also known as Arizona CHOW. Floribella expounded on their mission of increasing the number of healthcare professionals, in Arizona. AzCHOW provides a platform to bring Community Healthcare Workers to be recognized in the development of workforce, be at the table where workforce decisions are being made, and strengthen the profession. CHWs are valuable contributors to the health systems by increasing health outcomes in rural communities.

Next, we headed 307 miles north to Payson, Arizona, where we caught up with Judith Hunt, MD, Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine and Education Director for the EAHEC CE/CME.  She was excited to share the implementation of their Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship program, which builds partnerships in each community, and encourages us to work together. 

Continuing another 160 miles up north, we stopped in Polacca, Arizona at the Hopi Health Care Center, where Darren Vicenti, MD, the Center’s Chief Medical Officer, discussed their multi-cultural activities.  Dr. Vicenti and his team have been instrumental in developing a robust health center to provide optimal care for community members and members in surrounding communities. 

Next stop:  128 miles southwest, to Flagstaff, Arizona, where we met a team from North Country HealthCare and the Northern Arizona Health Extension Center.  Edward Paul, MD, and Ms. Marica Martinic told us about their new residency program.  They are currently interviewing to fill four new residency positions.  The residency is unique because it will be CHC based education.   

We ended the day 144 miles away in Phoenix, where we heard from Lorraine Ramirez,

Coordinator for the Arizona Rural Women’s Health Network,  which serves all rural counties in our state.  The mission is to build network partners’ capacity to cultivate and promote initiative, policies and practices to improve women’s health.  Currently, they have 20 members from throughout the state.

(L-R) Rebecca Ruiz, Dr. Ronald S. Weinstein, Dr. Dan Derksen, Jen Peters, and Kris Erps Sean Clendaniel, MPH, Director of the Central Arizona AHEC at the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, and President of the Arizona Rural Health Association, shared his slides. His message: “We all strive toward a shared vision by honoring people where they are at, both literally and figuratively.

Jen Peters, Program Manager from the State Office of Rural Health, closed the meeting by reiterating our pledge to continue to support rural collaborations and partnerships with stakeholders throughout Arizona. #powerofrural

Our Virtual Road Trip was a valuable experience for all of us. We covered over 1,400 miles and learned a great deal about 12 different organizations.  Comments were made throughout the webinar, about the value of sharing information.  AzCRH, ATP and SWTRC are committed to making this an annual event to expand our reach.

To find out more about these wonderful resources, visit the links throughout this article.  Also, the slide deck and a recording of the webinar can be found at

About the Author

Rebecca Ruiz's picture

Senior Program Coordinator Rebecca Ruiz has been with the Center for Rural Health at the University of Arizona for over 25 years, where she coordinates the annual Arizona Rural Health Conference and annual Arizona Rural and Public Health Policy Forum. She also works with the Arizona State Office of Rural Health and its collaboration with the Center for Rural Health, the Arizona Department of Health Services, and Arizona Association of Community Health Centers, to recruit job openings and assist in placement.  She has served on the MEZCOPH Staff Advisory Council and was President in 2014. 

Jane Erikson joined the staff of the Arizona Telemedicine Program in April 2013. She was already familiar with the program, as she previously wrote about the program during her nearly 20 years of covering health care for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson. Jane has lived in Arizona most of her life and is a graduate of the University of Arizona.

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