UND research and North Dakota: Rural health

Rural health is not just another issue for UND. It’s a top priority, as campuswide efforts show

Under the leadership of the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences Simulation Center, North Dakota hospitals have partnered to bring medical simulation education to all of North Dakota. SIM-ND is a statewide, mobile education system that uses high-fidelity human patient simulators to train ambulance and hospital personnel. UND archive photo.

Editor’s note: In this special issue, UND Today is highlighting the statewide impact of UND researchers and research. We’re doing this by publishing roundups on five key North Dakota topics, including Rural Health, Autonomous Systems and Western North Dakota. Then in each roundup, we’re listing and linking to recent UND Today pieces that show how the University’s work is affecting that topic. 

This story: Rural Health 

To help succeed at its 2017-22 Strategic Plan, UND has defined five Grand Challenges, each of which is meant to help the state by diversifying North Dakota’s economy and addressing social issues. 

One of those Grand Challenges is Rural Health & Communities. In meeting that challenge, UND’s goal is to help rural communities solve their unique health and social problems. 

And as recent stories in UND Today show, University researchers and research play a pivotal role in that effort.

In this Zoom screenshot of the Dec. 14 Webinar, UND faculty members Melissa Quincer, Kristen Votava and Tamba-Kuii Bailey are shown with UND Communications Director David Dodds, who facilitated the event.

Take COVID and rural North Dakota, for example. In UND experts host webinar on K-12 students, parents and teachers’ mental health, a UND Today story that was published in December, faculty from the UND College of Education & Human Development offer tips to help North Dakotans cope with pandemic’s teaching and parenting challenges. 

The webinar that this story reports on prompted several North Dakota news organizations to follow up with stories of their own. These efforts included a Forum Communications story that appeared in media outlets statewide.   

The same thing happened in the follow-up to this story: UND, Sanford Health announce behavioral health collaboration. The new Behavioral Health Bridge helps individuals who’ve been experiencing common behavioral health conditions related to COVID-19. It’s a series of online modules that are meant to offer scientific and clinically valid information, an urgent need in rural communities with little access to behavioral health care services. 

The collaboration was announced in September. And today, a search of “university,” “Sanford” and “Behavioral Health Bridge” on Google yields 12,400 results.

YouTube screenshot.

In Rising to the occasion, a story from July, a UND-led grant team describes the COVID-related seminars they’ve been offering for mental health professionals. The Zoom seminars offered by the Mountain Plains Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (MHTTC) “draw viewers by the thousands, as teachers, psychologists and others from across a six-state region Zoom in to learn about pandemic-related programs, identifying mental health issues and best practices,” the story reports. 

In each of the above stories, UND faculty and staff who are experts in rural health use their knowledge to help solve North Dakota’s problems. The University’s long history of doing that is documented in the next two stories: Center for Rural Health turns 40 reports on the birthday of the Center, the federally designated State Office of Rural Health for North Dakota, and a department within the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences that shares knowledge and tools with a broad range of rural and tribal communities.  

Meanwhile, Serving all of Rural America describes UND’s Rural Health Information Hub, the nation’s rural health information center. “RHIhub has been the go-to resource on rural health and human services issues for 18 years and a key partner for us,” says Tom Morris, associate administrator for Rural Health Policy at the U.S. Health Resource and Services Administration, in the story.  

“They play an essential role by providing not only a wealth of online resources but also webinars, information guides and one-on-one technical assistance to support rural communities.”  

Department of Physician Assistant Studies assistant professor Russ Kauffman with
PA students at the SMHS Simulation Center. Image courtesy of UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

In addition to the Center for Rural Health’s turning 40, UND Today took note of another rural-health-related anniversary in 2020: the Department of Physician Assistant Studies turning 50. In O PioneersBrian Schill of the School of Medicine & Health Sciences tells the story of what was only the second physician assistant training program in the country 

Today, the department remains the only PA program in North Dakota, emphasizes primary care in rural and underserved communities and points to nearly 2,000 graduates since the program started in 1970. 

Of course, COVID hasn’t been the only affliction plaguing rural North Dakota in recent years. Drug addiction is another. Don’t Quit the Quit describes UND Clinical Professor Maridee Shogren’s nationally recognized program that supports pregnant and postpartum women in rural North Dakota who are in recovery from opioid use disorder.  The program “supports and encourages mothers to maintain their recovery through these challenges,” Shogren says in the story. 

“In other words, we’re saying, ’Don’t quit the hard work you’re doing to maintain your healthy life choices and sobriety.’”

From left to right, John Merila, Conroy Unruh, Quinn Bass, Alicia Bullinger, Barb Delohery, Erica Eades and Dominik Steinhauer stand next to one of the two mobility devices created by Eades, Unruh and Merila for the nonprofit Anne Carlsen Center, which will use them to provide mobility for young children. Image courtesy of Anne Carlsen Center.

At UND, people in many fields – not just health care – strive to boost rural North Dakota’s health care outcomes and quality of life. Take the story Making the world a more inclusive place, for example.  Mechanical engineering students at the University could have chosen any number of tasks for their senior projects. They elected to help the nonprofit Anne Carlson Center in Grand Forks, designing and building a powered platform that can give young children lacking major motor skills the ability to move around. 

“I hope that they are proud of their work, because we’re really happy,” says Alicia Bullinger, an Anne Carlson Center physical therapist, in the story. 

“I hope they’re proud of what they’ve done for the lives that they’re affecting. 

Last but not least, UND’s commitment to studying tribal health challenges and training tribal health practitioners remains unsurpassed. In fact, that commitment continues to grow, as shown in First in the world, a story that describes UND’s launch of the planet’s first doctoral program in Indigenous health. 

“There is a need for well-trained administrators with a deep understanding of Indigenous health issues,” says Dr. Donald Warne, director of UND’s Indians Into Medicine (INMED) and Master of Public Health programs, in the story.  

“There is nothing like that in the world.”