Local VNA executive director earns national fellowship award

The nation's largest humanitarian organization has selected one the region's own for a prominent national nursing fellowship.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded Susan Birch, the executive director of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, a 2002 Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellowship.

Only 20 nurses nationwide were chosen to take part in what will be a three-year program designed to develop health care leaders who can aid in the rebuilding effort of the United States health care system.

The fellowship includes a $30,000 grant for a leadership project at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

"I am extremely honored to be representing the agency and the community," Birch said. "It's a great opportunity."

Birch, who found out she had received the fellowship in June, said the specifics of the leadership project have yet to be determined.

"We haven't identified what the project will be," Birch said. "It could be a host of things. The leadership project can be anything that advances the needs of the community. But it is a collaborative project between the Visiting Nurse Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"It will be something with the flavor of the agency taking the lead in health care improvements for the region."

Birch said she expected to have the project developed and implemented by the end of the year.

Birch said the fellowship would enable the Visiting Nurse Association to further address the specific needs of both Moffat and Routt Counties.

"I think rural health care has reached a critical point," Birch said. "I think that for two reasons poor government funding and burdensome paperwork. The rules have gotten out of control."

Birch said the fellowship would provide the opportunity to discuss the challenges associated with rural health care with federal and state officials.

"Different congressmen may ask me to testify in health care cases," Birch said. "There are a lot of linkages that are created. And people at the federal level need to have an understanding of how rules impact small agencies, such as ours."

Birch, who has been with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association for 10 years, became the agency's executive director in 1994. During that time, Birch has created programs for at-risk populations, developed strategic community partnerships and strengthened fiscal and administrative policies at the Visiting Nurse Association.

Birch is the vice president of the Home Care Association of Colorado, and member of the Caring for Colorado Foundation-Community Advisory, the Public Health Association, the 14th Judicial District Nominations Commission and the Visiting Nurse Association of America.

Gary Haberlan, the president of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association Board of Directors, said the fellowship would help pave the way for Birch.

"Sue has been very involved in national discussions on home health care issues," Haberlan said. "The fellowship will help her become a stronger voice for home health care agencies. It also has the ability to help Sue become familiar with the challenges health care faces all over the nation.

"It's a wonderful thing. We're very fortunate to have her."

According to its Web site, the New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation's largest organization devoted to improving health and health care. The foundation's grants focus is in assuring that all Americans have access to basic health care at a reasonable cost, improving care and support for people with chronic health conditions, promoting healthy communities and lifestyles and in reducing the personal, social and economic harm caused by

substance abuse.

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