Virtual Rural Health Day conference to address Nevada’s rural public health infrastructure

Health care leaders tackle ways to improve access to care

By John Packham Ph.D., associate dean for the Office of Statewide Initiatives, UNR Med; Gerald Ackerman, assistant dean, Rural Health; director, Office of Rural Health; director, Nevada AHEC Program and Keith Clark, director, Rural Programs, Office of Rural Health; director, Frontier AHEC

Team members of the UNR Med Student Outreach Clinic pose for a photo while braving a blizzard to provide care to migrant farmworkers in Yerington, Nevada.

Team members of the UNR Med Student Outreach Clinic brave the elements to provide care to migrant farmworkers in Yerington, Nevada. From left to right: Brooke Clemmensen, Cameron Burgess, Jessicia Schmitt, Daniel Spogen, M.D., professor; chair, Family and Community Medicine, and Christian Jara. Photo courtesy of SOC. 

What are the key topics being covered in the upcoming virtual Rural Health Day conference?

This year's focus will be on rural public health infrastructure amid the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Topics to be discussed include: improving public health capacity and preparedness in rural areas, state vs. federal powers over public health, and the promise of cross-jurisdictional sharing in public health. There will also be an overview of Nevada Revised Statutes regarding local health officers and boards of health in rural Nevada.   The conference will also celebrate the exceptional work of Nevada's rural health care providers and recognize health officers who have gone above and beyond, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

How are our rural communities doing amid the COVID-19 pandemic?  

Rural health care providers have always been stretched, and are even more so during the pandemic. Rural health care infrastructure is limited. Many rural hospitals have a limited number of hospital beds, ICU beds, or ventilators, which can affect their ability to treat patients with COVID-19. Rural residents are usually faced with long travel distances to reach hospitals, health care facilities, and clinical specialists.   Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the Project ECHO Nevada model has played a key role in quickly helping to connect experts and frontline health care professionals.  

COVID-19 was not the impetus for the increased use of Project ECHO and telehealth, but it is definitely going to be a very important part of the health care delivery system for the future. In addition to its necessity during the pandemic, telehealth is useful for people who do not have mobility, those in rural areas, and those at a distance from their health care providers.   

What are the top legislative priorities for rural health in Nevada?  

  • Maintaining the National Health Service Corps federal loan repayment program to support health professional training and placement in rural and underserved areas.
  • Allowing health care providers to receive reimbursement for telehealth services.  

What are the latest developments in UNR Med rural partnerships and the Elko Family Medicine clinic?  

The Office of Statewide Initiatives and the Office of Rural Health have never been busier. Both offices have had more interaction than ever before with our medical students, supporting the expansion of Student Outreach Clinics (SOC's) across rural Nevada. The student-run SOC's began in Reno, initially expanding across Reno and Carson City. Recently, the SOC's have expanded into rural Nevada. Many medical students involved in the SOC's also participate as Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Inter-Professional Education (IPE) scholars and are hosting quarterly clinics in Lovelock, Silver Springs and Yerington, and looking to future clinics in Elko. Recently on Sunday, Nov. 8, 13 faculty and student volunteers braved a blizzard to host a successful Rural Outreach Clinic (ROC) in Yerington.    

Our partnership with Nevada Health Centers and UNR Med Family Medicine with the Elko Family Medicine Residency Program will soon be offering expanded service lines, including OB/prenatal and telehealth, are all having a positive impact on rural health delivery across Nevada. The COVID-19 hotline for northeastern Nevada, which covers five rural counties, has been supported and precepted by Jaclyn Huynh, M.D., UNR Med family medicine clinical faculty member, in Elko.  

Our Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Scholars program worked with medical student leaders to start a Spanish for Clinical Encounters class - MED 663. Medical students identified the need for this class while working in clinical practices and volunteering on COVID-19 hotlines. Ten medical students are enrolled in the inaugural class. Other programs, including UNR Med's Physician Assistant Studies Program, are interested in expanding the offering.  

One of our focus areas continues to be working with the Office of Admissions and Student Affairs to increase the enrollment of rural Nevadans. Last year, 19% of students came into our medical school from rural backgrounds. This is the highest percentage of rural students in an incoming class. The year before was 12%, and prior, UNR Med's highest percentage was the Class of 2020 at 6%.   Our partnership with Nevada Rural Hospital Partners, which is a co-sponsor of Nevada Rural Health Day, continues to support the financial and delivery viability of our rural hospitals and clinics. This partnership continues to be key in strengthening and supporting our rural communities.  

Finally, the State Office of Rural Health has been working with local rural health boards, counties commissions and health officers in the expansion and development of rural public health, and with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which is the topic for this year's Nevada Rural Health Day program.

Media Contact


The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision for a healthy Nevada. Established in 1969, UNR Med is improving the health and well-being of all Nevadans and their communities through excellence in student education, postgraduate training and clinical care, research with local, national and global impact and a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Released: Tuesday November 17, 2020 @ 8:00 AM