Natasha Rutherford Makes a Difference for HEAL Appalachia Program

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    JOHNSON CITY – Natasha Rutherford made the most of her internship at Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA) during her second year as a master of public health student in the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health.

   By designing and implementing new technology and outreach activities in the HEAL Appalachia program, Rutherford helped increase the numbers of applicants in the grant program and refine the grant review process. HEAL Appalachia is the product of the MSHA-ETSU Obesity Collaborative. It supports a wide range of community-based projects to reduce childhood obesity in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

   Rutherford’s changes were substantial enough that MSHA lauded her with its “Above and Beyond the Call of Duty Award.” Mountain States established the awards program to recognize student innovation and outstanding examples of service, leadership and excellence.

   In Rutherford’s nomination submission, her MSHA preceptor wrote that Rutherford’s outreach and promotion efforts led to an 82 percent increase in grant applications from Southwest Virginia and a record number of applicants overall. In addition, Rutherford transitioned the grant review process from paper to online to accommodate grant reviews via virtual networking, and she implemented webinars for training of applicants and reviewers. She also created a follow-up survey to facilitate further improvements.

   Dr. Amal Khoury, professor and chair of the ETSU Department of Health Services Management and Policy, served as the internship advisor for Rutherford, who accepted a position at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington, D.C., after earning her master’s degree in the spring. Khoury said Rutherford’s exemplary work is indicative of the positive effects that can be made by trained public health professionals.

   “We are so proud of Natasha and her fellow graduates who are able to use the skills and tools that they acquire as public health students to effectively serve their internship sites, employers and the larger community,” Khoury said.

   Rutherford is a health insurance specialist with the Centers for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight. It is the Department of Health and Human Services division that is designated to implement the health care reform law and health insurance exchanges.

   “HEAL Appalachia gave me the project management experience that I am using right now to help develop project plans that are used in White House reports,” Rutherford said. “If it were not for MSHA’s and the College of Public Health’s cooperation on field experiences, there is no way I would have had this opportunity to be part of such a monumental time in health care.”