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Rural Renewal Initiative Project helps across state

Friday, September 17, 2021

Media Contact: Harrison Hill | Research Communications Specialist | 405-744-5827 |

Since the Tillman County Memorial Hospital closed more than five years ago, area residents have faced significant challenges and long distances to find health care.

This puts the Tillman County Emergency Medical Services team, located in the county seat of Frederick, in a less-than-desirable situation. Overworked and underfunded, the paramedics and first responders are stretched thin with routine health maintenance or minor illnesses in addition to the trauma or other emergency calls. Unable to reach a hospital for at least an hour in some cases, medics often must treat patients who need advanced medical care — and every second counts.

Recognizing the increased reliance on rural paramedics following a hospital closure, the Rural Renewal Initiative of Oklahoma State University launched a research program in the summer of 2021 to help Frederick and similar communities cope with these challenges. Research teams began a series of projects with first responders to implement and evaluate telehealth connections between ambulances and the OSU Medical Center emergency room in Tulsa. These efforts help EMTs and paramedics collaborate with ER doctors and residents in Tulsa who can advise on time-sensitive cases.

“The medical center is a teaching hospital. This platform offers learning opportunities for EMS staff and medical students alike,” said Dr. Mark Woodring, AT&T Professor of Telemedicine and assistant dean for rural health at the OSU Center for Health Sciences. Woodring also serves as co-director of the Rural Renewal Initiative.

The Rural Renewal Initiative is part of the Tier 1 initiative from OSU’s Office of Research that’s intended to engage with society and  collaborate with local communities to solve vexing challenges and create practical and scalable solutions.

“The Rural Renewal Initiative as a whole is a great example of our land-grant mission in action. The Tier 1 Research Initiatives have allowed us to closely examine a community’s needs through interdisciplinary, collaborative research,” Woodring said. “And the impact of this research reaches far beyond Tillman County. While this is a work shines a light on significant disparities within our state.

“We are currently testing the connectivity capability of telemedicine in the area. This in many research project also associated with the Rural Renewal Initiative. We’ve been piloting FirstNet equipment likelihood of positive connectivity is high in most places. Thanks to a recent grant award from Telligen, our team will have further opportunity to strengthen broadband adoption with the project.”

“These doctors have a lot of knowledge and to give patients the best care possible,” said Ralph Washburn, director of Tillman County Emergency Medical Services. “This project has been a benefit to us as EMS and to patients. “This program would be hugely beneficial for any rural EMS in any community, in any state.”

This project has just begun.

The next steps for researchers include learning about patient preferences regarding telemedicine post-COVID.

“We recently conducted focus groups to help us understand the perceptions that community members have about the use of this technology by EMS,” Woodring said. “We also hope to better understand the utilization of rural EMS services by different demographics and to provide additional support to the EMS team and patients through broadband and technology. Our preliminary assessment suggests other disparities to emergency care exist here.”

The Telligen Community Initiative (TCI) grant is extending the project, which was selected as one of only 15 grants for TCI’s 2021 Iowaand Oklahoma-based funding cycle. A total of $676,430 in grants were awarded to nonprofit organizations in these states. TCI supports projects in health innovation, health care workforce development and access to care for the underserved. Since 2014, TCI has awarded more than $11.75 million to 286 organizations and projects in Iowa, Illinois, Oklahoma and Colorado.


The emergency telemedicine research project in Tillman County is benefiting local communities as well as OSU students. One of the primary goals of the Rural Renewal Initiative is to engage students in its interdisciplinary work. Through student research and the Rural Scholars program, in less than two years more than 20 students have been engaged in research intended to improve rural communities.

Hunter Meyers, a 2020 Rural Scholar, spent 10 weeks in Frederick to gain experience in telemedicine and EMS and conduct research with the community.

“I think the most important aspect of doing any kind of research in a community, especially from a public health standpoint, is stakeholder investment and involvement,” Meyers said. “By living in the communities, you show that you are invested. We show physically that we’re here to work and we’re not just some distant folks. By living in the communities and engaging with community members you have the opportunity to have conversations with stakeholders and those are just as valuable as the research itself.

Kynadi Shelby is working in Tillman County as one of the 2021 Rural Scholars.

“Living and working in this community was so impactful for my education. It familiarized me with emergency medicine and solidified my desire to become a physician in a rural community in the future.” Kate Miller, a 2020 Rural Scholar, also spent 10 weeks in Frederick. Her research focused on the perspectives of community members regarding health in the wake of the hospital closure. This experience had a significant impact on her and directed the rest of her graduate work, thesis research and current career.

“I started the summer program with a strong desire to listen to voices that aren’t necessarily asked to speak very often, but who had incredible experiential knowledge, creative thoughts, and important ideas that helped me shape the direction of my career now.”

Miller is currently a public affairs specialist at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and will be defending her master’s thesis in agricultural communications later this summer with Dr. Angel Riggs, Dr. Samantha Blackwell and Dr. Woodring.

Courtney Mapes, a third-year medical student researcher associated with the Rural Renewal Initiative and OSU Center for Rural Health, worked with the data provided by Rural Scholars who served in Tillman County. She assessed the feasibility of the telemedicine technology and its implementation and worked closely with OSU Medicine and the Center for Health Sciences telehealth team on implementing the project in Tulsa.

“The community has been amazing to work with. Their willingness to try out new technology that has the potential to benefit their community as a whole says a lot about them,” Mapes said. “They want the best for all of rural Oklahoma. And I’ve seen firsthand how our medical school does, too.” After completing medical school at OSU’s Center for Health, Mapes plan to serve rural Oklahoma as a primary care physician. As both Meyers and Mapes have started their rotations through the OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine’s rural medical track program, two new rural medical student researchers are picking up where they left off — Kynadi Shelby, a 2021 Rural Scholar and first-year medical student from Hollis, and Alma Rios Wilson, an OSU medical student ambassador and second-year medical student from Buffalo.

Rural Renewal Initiative Parts

Rural Scholars Program

Upper-level undergraduates and graduate students lead community-engaged research in rural communities during the summer. They are trained on approaches for successful communitybased research. Students study ways to develop natural, human and/or technological capital to build resilience and reduce vulnerability in rural communities.

Seed Grant Program

The initiative leads an annual competitive seed grant program open to all OSU researchers and their collaborators, providing funds to initiate research in, with or for rural communities.

This program stimulates participation in research by engaging community members in refining research questions and developing opportunities to build new partnerships between the community and university. The program is designed to attract researchers from all career stages into rural renewal research and to provide excellent training opportunities for students and post-doctoral students.

Rural Renewal Symposium

The Rural Renewal Symposium is designed to raise awareness, attract resources and stimulate research toward solving grand challenges facing rural communities. This symposium provides a unique opportunity for faculty, students and rural community members from across the U.S. and around the world to connect with others and learn about the latest discoveries, trends and approaches for rural renewal.

The students from the Rural Scholars program and researchers from the Seed Grant program describe their studies and present the findings of their research projects.

Photos By: Todd Johnson

Story By: Audrey King |

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