The mother of three children, including two with special health care needs, Donene Feist knows how difficult it can be to navigate the complex health care and health insurance systems—especially in a rural state like North Dakota, where medical facilities are few and far between.
To help other parents in similar situations, Feist founded the North Dakota chapter of Family Voices, a national nonprofit organization that aims to achieve family-centered care for children with disabilities, chronic illnesses and other special health needs.
As director of the North Dakota chapter, which has been in operation since 1996, she has helped roughly 20,000 children obtain health care. In 2007, she helped make North Dakota the first state to pass the Family Opportunity Act, a law that makes it easier for families with special health care needs to qualify for Medicaid benefits.
For her work on behalf of children with special health care needs, Feist received the 2009 “Data in Action” award. The award recognizes excellence in advancing evidence-based improvements in children’s health care and is given by the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health, an information clearinghouse based at the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative at Oregon Health & Science University.
The center’s director, Christina Bethell, Ph.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., presented the award to Feist and another recipient at Family Voices’ annual national meeting in Washington, D.C., in May 2009.
Last year, Feist received the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders award for her work on behalf of special-needs children. The Foundation’s award honors outstanding individuals who tackle challenging health and health care problems in their communities. It carries a prize of $125,000.