Rural Health Systems Manager Expands Access to Health Care in Kansas Farm Belt

2011 Community Health Leader ensures residents of rural communities in western Kansas have access to health care providers.

    • November 8, 2011

"'Rural' shouldn't mean without." That statement sums up a fundamental belief of Chrysanne Grund, a health care systems manager and family farmer who has dedicated her life to helping residents of her sparsely populated community in western Kansas access quality health care.

Ensuring that residents of Wallace and Greeley counties—the least populated counties in the state—have access to quality health care is a daunting task that often requires perseverance, creative thinking and even a little legislative maneuvering.

"In order to provide medical care in the farm belt, you need to do things a little differently," Grund said. "Our providers have to be very hands-on; they can't just refer patients to specialists across town."

As project director of Greeley County Health Services, Grund wages a constant battle against the proverbial red tape to help residents of her community access quality health care. When Grund sought to bring a dentist to her clinics, for example, she ran up against a state law requiring the dentist to own his or her office space and work in that space at least half of the time.

"We had to make the legislators in Topeka understand what this legislation had done to a rural community like ours," said Grund. "We had no convenient access to dental care, and families were having to take their kids out of school for a half day just to go to the dentist," she said. To solve the problem, she helped to secure a "frontier exception" to the legislation.

To help increase access to medical care in the future, Grund started the Greeley-Wallace County Healthcare Foundation, which raises funds for area cancer patients and created a scholarship fund for local residents who want to pursue a career in health care. In addition, Grund has mentored students—from high school all the way through medical school—encouraging them to fulfill their potential.

Grund's foundation also supports the construction of a new medical clinic in Wallace County, which is one of only a handful of counties in the state without a hospital. And she leads efforts to educate residents about obesity, which has risen, in part, thanks to the mechanization of agriculture. "People used to perform more work by hand, and there was a lot of physical labor in farming. Now they do everything from a tractor, but they still eat as if they were being more physical."

For consistently challenging the status quo and ensuring access to medical care in the Kansas farm belt, Grund has been named one of 10 recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Community Health Leaders Award. The award honors exceptional men and women who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing their communities. Grund received the award during a ceremony in Baltimore, Md., on November 9.

Jan Epp, a member of the Greeley County Health Services Board of Trustees, said of Grund: "Many people have dreams of improving life in their communities; Chrysanne is one of those unique individuals who dream big and then work tirelessly to make those dreams into reality. Like many unsung heroes, she is much more comfortable working behind the scenes and supporting others than accepting accolades for herself."

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