NEWS | August 7, 2009

Tahoe Forest Health System Named Rural Center of Excellence

UC Davis Health System designation aims to advance rural health


UC Davis Health System has named Tahoe Forest Health System as its first Rural Center of Excellence, a special designation that recognizes the Truckee-based organization for becoming a training site for medical students and for its willingness to embrace new approaches to rural health-care services.

UC Davis Health System has established the Rural Centers of Excellence designation to help advance the delivery of health care in rural areas through its Rural-PRIME initiative. The program trains future physicians to work with medically underserved populations in rural communities in order to improve access and reduce disparities in health care.

Rural communities often lack the full spectrum of medical services that urban areas enjoy.  In California, for example, 20 percent of the population lives in rural communities, but only 9 percent of physicians practice in these areas. Having enough primary care clinicians to meet local needs has long been a challenge and access to specialty care –from psychiatry and infectious disease to cardiology or dermatology – can be even more difficult, time-consuming and costly for rural residents.

“Increasing the number of primary care physicians who plan to practice in rural areas and using telemedicine connections to offer access to specialty care are two ways that UC Davis is working to address the health-care needs of residents living beyond major urban areas,” said Thomas Nesbitt, vice chancellor for Strategic Alliances and Partnerships and a national leader in rural health. “Tahoe Forest Health System has been redesigning the way health-care services are delivered in a rural community and it offers an excellent learning experience for our students.”

UC Davis’ Rural-PRIME program now has 35 students in training, which is nearly 10 percent of the total number of students enrolled in its School of Medicine.  Third-year students are placed at hospitals to better understand the needs of patients in rural communities and gain valuable insights by working with community physicians. Last month, the Tahoe Forest Health System welcomed the first UC Davis medical students to its hospital in Truckee. 

“Being designated a center of excellence recognizes our long-standing commitment to offer quality care for our community,” said Robert Schapper, chief executive officer for the organization founded by local residents in 1949. “One of our primary goals is to bridge the gaps in health-care services that challenge rural providers. Whether it’s linking patients to medical specialists or giving our physicians access to the latest in medical education and training, our mission is to be able to provide everything right here in our own community.” 

UC Davis plans to partner with other health systems around the state that are committed to improving rural health and are willing to become teaching sites for its medical students. Tahoe Forest Health System, for example, is addressing the challenges facing many rural health providers by integrating and focusing resources on the delivery of high-quality clinical care, creating a continuous learning environment for doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals and providing medical research opportunities and easier access to innovative treatments for local residents. It is part of the UC Davis Cancer Care Network, a collaboration of health-care sites that gives oncologists and others involved in cancer care convenient opportunities to share medical information via real-time video-conferencing, reach consensus on patient treatment plans and have access to advanced cancer therapies through clinical trials.

“Our vision for improving rural health is to encourage a better model of care,” Nesbitt said.  “We know that community health improves when smaller health-care systems and larger, urban medical institutions like UC Davis collaborate in training and health-care services. Such partnerships enable rural providers to overcome disparities caused by access, funding and geography. These are shared problems and the best answer is to share in the solutions.”