The following article was posted in the Wausau Daily Herald on Friday, 7/31/15.
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On 7/31/15, the Wausau Daily Herald wrote:

Health initiative making inroads on back roads

WAUSAU – Misty Vogel was moving cows at the farm she owns with her husband when a gate slipped out of her hand and broke her nose. Despite the soreness that lasted three months, Vogel got on with her work at Misty Hollow Farms and let the injury heal on its own.

10930851_1631110103768587_4527633807103503128_nWhen the farm’s previous owner injured his ankle doing chores, he simply tightened his boot laces and soldiered on.

Vogel and others who work with the Rural Health Initiative have loads of stories like those that illustrate why farmers benefit from the house calls that characterize the initiative. A registered nurse goes where farmers work and live to conduct health assessments and educate patients.

“We joke that if we’re not bleeding out of our ears, we do not go to the doctor,” Vogel said. “We’re so accustomed to everything else coming first.”

Vogel is co-leader of the steering committee for the Rural Health Initiative of Marathon County. The program has been in the county for 14 months and is starting to make a mark. The nonprofit has financial support from local foundations and health systems and is constantly fund raising.

Rural Health Initiative began in Shawano County nearly 12 years ago and expanded to Outagamie and Waupaca counties, said Project Manager Gail Kell

“This is actually a very innovative program,” Kell said. “We don’t know of any other programs that provide services in the same way.”

A group from Marathon County, including the county health department and local branch of University of Wisconsin Extension, sought out the Rural Health Initiative to spread to this part of the state.

“We’re really really happy that we were able to have them expand in our community,” said Judy Burrows, chronic disease prevention program director for Marathon County. “We’re a huge county, and we have lots and lots of rural families and this is filling a gap for us.”

‘Right to the house’

Brittany Schreiber has been making house and business calls for the Rural Health Initiative in Marathon County since last October, and the program launched in May 2014. Schreiber is a registered nurse and has reached 150 people already. She grew up on a farm herself and married a farmer. That experience helps her build rapport with the people she serves, she said.

“I hear all that time (from clients) that it’s very valuable, because we come right to the house,” Schreiber said.

In appointments that last about 20 minutes, Schreiber does on-site tests for blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat and other health indicators. She educates people and makes referrals to primary care doctors and mental health care providers.

One patient had stopped taking his blood pressure medication because it was too expensive, and Schreiber helped connect him with a prescription savings card.

Among the people screened in the four counties served by Rural Health Initiative, 30 percent have undiagnosed or undetected acute, chronic health issues, Kell said. The main issue Schreiber sees: high cholesterol. She said it plagues about 80 percent of her patients.

“That’s why we’re out there doing what we’re doing, to bring those numbers down the more natural way,” Schreiber said. She recommends diet and other changes that can have an impact, to minimize the need for more intense or expensive treatment.

Raising funds

The Greenheck foundation just granted the initiative $15,650. And the Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin furnished $4,323 used in part for a tablet to play educational materials to non-English speakers.

Schreiber has seen a lot of Hispanic workers at large dairies. And Kell hopes the initiative will move into the Hmong community as well.

Marshfield Clinic, Aspirus and Ministry Health Care cover 50 percent of the initiatives needs in Marathon County, Kell said. But the nonprofit organization is always looking for more funds. It will hold a fund raiser in September called Cultibrate: Cultivate and celebrate farm family health.

Kell and Vogel asked the Marathon County Health and Human Services Committee to donate $1,000 and become a major sponsor at the event. The county attorney is looking to see if the county board can authorize such an expense. The committee voted to approve $1,000 sponsorship if its allowed, demonstrating the county’s support for the initiative.

“A thousand bucks — I think you get a big bang for your buck,” said County Board member Matt Bootz.

A lot of Marathon County groups are behind the Rural Health Initiative, but its staff are still fighting for more visibility.

Farmers don’t tend to reach out to Schreiber until they’ve heard about the program a few times, she said.

“I just hope we can continue to spread the word and get people signed up for our program,” Schreiber said. “Right now it’s just so new, and its kind of a slow progress.”

Nora G. Hertel can be reached at 715-845-0665 or [email protected]. Find her on Twitter as @nghertel.