Rural health powered by farm families and businesses - ThedaCare

Rural health powered by farm families and businesses – ThedaCare

The Rural Health Initiative will soon celebrate its 20th anniversaryThe tenth Anniversary. The Rural Home Health Care Program has come a long way since its inception as a pilot program serving farmers in Shawano County in 2004.

“The Rural Health Initiative began in 2004 after ThedaCare Community Health Action Team (CHAT) revealed why farmers rarely seek health care except in emergencies,” said Rhonda Strebel, director of ThedaCare Rural Health Initiative. “Three main reasons were identified: 1) the lack of easy access to health care; 2) the “if I can get up and get my work done, I must be fine” attitude; 3) the lack of affordable insurance. Being self-employed, many Farmers can only afford catastrophic health insurance.”

During the hearings, a farm family noted that the key was to receive care to me peasants.

With this in mind, the Rural Health Initiative (RHI) was born as a non-profit, independent organization and developed its “Kitchen Wellness” program that literally transported Strebel to farmers’ homes in Shawano County for health screenings, including blood pressure, cholesterol readings, glucose testing, A1C, weight and obesity checks .

“We have and continue to do basic health checks to provide people with information about what their different readings mean,” she explained. “If needed, we help them find a healthcare provider, and we do some health directions and referrals.”

Hearing from farm families and businesses

In the case of large dairy operations, RHI meets with dairy workers at their workplace, conducts health checks and provides information on healthy diets, exercise, and overall lifestyle improvement. Breeze Dairy Group LLC, with farms in Langlade, Fond du Lac, Waushara and Pierce counties, is one of the large dairy operations in northeastern Wisconsin participating in the RHI program.

“Our operations are 24/7, and opportunities for our team members to get to an off-site appointment between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. are few and far between,” explained Katie Gerets, director of human resources for Breeze Dairy Group. “We knew our team members did not have routine medical exams, and we wanted to change that. That’s why I called RHI. This free on-site test is a great benefit for our employees. I wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could to support the important in the business.”

Gerrits noted that she has been informed of how the Breeze Dairy Group could support the RHI programme. She said they are grateful for the service and are happy to return the favor.

The Rural Health Initiative became part of ThedaCare in 2021.

“As a ThedaCare program, we are now under the umbrella of ThedaCare Family of Enterprises,” Strebel explained. “We also have a fund that individuals, foundations, and companies can donate to to support our efforts.”

Financial support from ThedaCare, a health equity grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and contributions from generous donors have provided RHI with funds to expand its services to seven counties served by ThedaCare — Green Lake, Marquette, Outagamie, Shawano, Waupaca, Waushara and Winnebago counties — and include any Someone who lives in a rural area, not just farmers. RHI now has a Health Outreach Specialist (OHS) in each of the seven counties.

“Anyone who lives in rural areas can contact the specialist in their county to make an appointment for a free health exam,” Strebel emphasized. “We encourage everyone to visit a primary care provider regularly, and for some people, we also understand that this may not be possible for a variety of reasons. Many older people are staying at home or looking after their spouse and have transportation or other problems. These are the people we hope to get through. to them. We really want to make sure they understand the importance of their health as well.”

The health professionals will soon be joined by two nurse practitioners (NPs) who will also conduct home and virtual visits with rural residents.

“We will continue to do free basic health checks, and now with nurse practitioners, we can expand our services beyond educating people about their health conditions to include some clinical services, if needed,” Strebel said. “For example, these services can test for a sore throat, urine test, and other routine tests.”

There will be a fee if any diagnostic or treatment services are provided, and it will be billed from ThedaCare. If the person or family does not have health insurance, health professionals will connect their patients with ThedaCare benefits specialists who can help them locate insurance or Medicaid coverage.

In cases where people may not have a computer or internet connection, Strebel said team members would be able to use their phones or laptops to provide virtual connectivity to the NPs if they weren’t available in person. In addition to NPs, RHI can now also connect its clients with a pharmacist, nutritionist, and behavioral health professionals. They also have interpreters to help communicate with Hispanic and Hmong workers and their families.

RHI also provides local vaccination clinics in the communities, offering recommended routine vaccinations such as pneumococcal pneumonia, seasonal influenza (flu), shingles and tetanus boosters.

Looking to the future

In 2023, RHI plans to begin offering lifestyle wellness classes, teaching people about healthy eating, including how to cook with healthy ingredients you may not be familiar with and how to revamp their recipes by using healthy foods like brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice.

“We’re going to talk about good nutrition, exercise for fitness, mindfulness — taking time to think or pray or meditate, whatever that individual might do to calm their life and reduce stress,” Strebel said. “Once again, these classes will be offered in appropriate places where people feel comfortable. We believe that rural citizens need more opportunities to mingle with their neighbors, and these classes will be an opportunity to do that and build relationships with others trying to improve their health and well-being.”

For companies like Breeze Dairy Group, RHI provides a much-needed service.

“Our company relies on these services, and we very much appreciate the availability of a program like this,” Gerrits said. “The health of our team members is important to us. This on-site service is a blessing. We are proud and happy to donate to RHI, and we look forward to using their services for years to come.”

For more information about RHI, visit

Donor Heart Series

This article is part of a planned series of generous donors supporting ThedaCare Family of Foundations. Donations to the ThedaCare family of foundations help fund projects and programs at many levels across the system.

If you know of a donor, or a community organization, that has a connection to the ThedaCare Family of Foundations and thinks it should be included in the Donor Heart series, please email To learn more about ThedaCare Family of Foundations and the impact of donor support, please visit

Members of the ThedaCare Rural Health Initiative (RHI) team visit Breeze Dairy Group LLC, which provides health screenings for farm workers. RHI meets dairy workers at their workplace, conducts health checks and provides information about healthy diets, exercise and general lifestyle improvements.

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeastern and Central Wisconsin. The organization provides care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs nearly 7,000 healthcare professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in population health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique best lives. ThedaCare also works with local communities to understand needs, find solutions together, and encourage health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, giving professionals the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on patient care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a Level II Trauma Center, comprehensive cancer treatment, and heart and stroke programs, as well as primary care.

For more information visit Or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should contact Cassandra Wallace, PR and Media Consultant at 920.442.0328 or ThedaCare Medical Center-Neenah Keypad at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.

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