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Students organize rural health policy event

| Stephanie Hurst, Jan Adams

For a group of first-semester senior College of Nursing and Health Sciences students, Friday April 1st was no joke. After months of planning, communicating, and collaborating, it all come together at the policy event, “Ready or Not:  Embracing the Wave of Baby Boomers” held in Ladysmith, Wisconsin to raise awareness about the rural aging population and future, as well as present, challenges that concern their healthcare.


Nursing Leadership I: Clinical Practicum students, Tabatha Ballentine, Stephanie Hassemer, Stephanie Hurst, and Sarah Weigman utilized their leadership and project management skills to organize the event. Faculty member, Dr. Debra Hofmann and Dr. Pamela Guthman, CEO of the Indianhead Community Action Agency (ICAA) provided leadership on the project. 


The policy event took place at the ICAA Auditorium in Ladysmith on Friday, April 1st from 2:00 PM – 4:30 PM.  After a welcome by Eldon Skogen, ICAA Board Chairman, Gunnar Larson, UW-EC Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) candidate, followed with his presentation, “Rural Health:  It’s the Same Difference?” that focused on rural healthcare models.  Ken Hall, the ICAA Weatherization Energy Auditor, presented, “Aging in Place” which touched upon the agency’s weatherization program and how it enables elderly citizens to safely remain in their home with simple home maintenance upgrades. A case study was presented, with questions that were directed to ten panelists. The panelists included:

  • Samuel Wilson, State Director of AARP
  • Tammy Peacock, ICAA Director and Administrator of Home Services
  • Chris Atwood Thorson, Rusk County Director of Home Health Care
  • Leslie Fijalkiewicz, Director of ADRC of Barron, Rusk, & Washburn Counties
  • Diane Welsh, Attorney at Cullen Weston Pines & Bach
  • Stephanie Hassemer, UW-EC BSN Student, a family member as caregiver
  • Charisse Oland, CEO of Rusk County Memorial Hospital
  • Cheryl Kelley-Administrator of Ladysmith Care Community
  • Douglas Hughes, Acting Director of the Home & Community Care Department, Minneapolis Veterans Affair Health Care System.

With about sixty audience members including community members, political activists, legislators or their staff, health care workers and UW-EC nursing staff, the purpose rang loud and clear with positive feedback. “Ready or Not:  Embracing the Wave of Baby Boomers” not only benefited the Rusk County population, but also enriched the nursing students who helped create it. Sarah Weigman states, “I feel this event was not only important for the rural community, but it was also a great learning experience into a different aspect of nursing that can be overlooked.” Stephanie Hassemer, the student panelist, remarked, “The policy event helped me become more interested in public/community health. Learning it in class is different than meeting and talking with people who need our help…I don’t think I’ve felt that proud of myself since I got into the nursing program.” 


“It was an incredible feeling, standing in front of everyone and being able to see all of our hard work morph into an event that could benefit so many people,” writes Stephanie Hurst, the moderator for the event. “Everything we have done for this day not only helped myself and my peers grow into nurse leaders, but also could pave the way for positive changes regarding the rural aging population and how their healthcare needs could and should be met.”