University Park, Pa.-- Cooperative Extension's Family Fitness Program, a community-minded mother, a small town dentist, a dedicated health-care administrator, a retiring U.S. congressman, and a local fire department are the 2008 recipients of the Pennsylvania Rural Health Awards given out at the 2008 Pennsylvania Rural Health Conference.
These awards are presented each year to select individuals and/or organizations that significantly enhanced the health and well-being of rural Pennsylvanians. The 2008 awards were presented during a special ceremony held in June. Michael Huff, deputy secretary for health planning and assessment in the Pennsylvania Department of Health, assisted with this year's presentation.
The Family Fitness Program, an after-school program created by Penn State Cooperative Extension and currently offered in 22 Pennsylvania counties, received one of this year's two Rural Health Program of the Year awards. Designed for children ages of 8 and 12, the nine-week program helps overweight children or those at risk of becoming overweight, make healthier food choices and increase physical activity. Parents attend five meetings (three with their child) so they can receive information, skills and motivational guidance leading to improved food choices, physical activity and family support for their children. Data from the first three years of this research-based program show significant improvement in the children's healthy eating behaviors; increased physical activity among children and families; improved communication and goal-setting among families regarding healthy eating.
Early Warning for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, a program established by Williamsport's Bureau of Fire, in partnership with other Lycoming County fire departments, also received the Rural Health Program of the Year Award. This program enhances the fire safety in homes of deaf and hard-of-hearing residents in Lycoming County by securing and installing wireless smoke detector systems that not only emit sounds but also send a signal to a receiver unit that sets off a strobe and a bed shaker.
Gary Sauers, administrative director for the Broad Top Area Medical Center (Huntingdon County), was named 2008 Community Rural Health Leader of the Year for implementing fiscal and operational procedures that reduced debt, brought all bills to "current" status and significantly improved patient and employee satisfaction scores at the Medical Center.
Melisa Engel, from Williamsport (Lycoming County), was one of the two recipients of this year's Rural Health Hero of the Year award. Since learning 10 years ago that her twin daughters had moderate to severe hearing loss, Engel has researched, lobbied for and launched a host of services designed to help her daughters and hundreds of other hearing-impaired Pennsylvania children.
David Hajel, a dentist in Somerset (Somerset County), also received the 2008 Rural Health Hero of the Year award. He was honored for his work with the Somerset County Head Start, which requires all children enrolled in the program to have a dental exam. Hajel, provided basic dental care to more than 400 children enrolled in the Head Start program over the past three years.
PORH also announced that retiring U.S. Rep. John Peterson (R-5th District) would be presented with a special Significant Contributions to Rural Health Care Award, for 30 years as one of the leading voices in the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the U.S. Congress on rural health care, economic development and education. Peterson will receive his award at a later date.