POCATELLO — Three Idaho State University faculty and staff are among six Idaho health care professionals to receive an Idaho Rural Health Hero Award for 2020. They were honored at a virtual awards celebration with Idaho Rural Health Association board members and guests on Nov. 19.

The awards are given on National Rural Health Day in Idaho to recognize rural health educators, community advocates, health care providers and program administrators who demonstrate outstanding service and dedication to rural communities. Nominations described the many contributions of this year’s awardees as advocates, communicators, educators, collaborators and innovators.

Rylee O’Neill is the director of the Southeast Idaho Area Health Education Center and director of evaluation for the Idaho Rural Interdisciplinary Health Collaborative at ISU.

Through the Southeast Idaho AHEC Scholars program, she prepares 30 interdisciplinary health students to care for rural and underserved communities each year. This nationally recognized education and training program focuses on preparing a diverse, culturally competent health care workforce.

She also helped organize an interprofessional student club at ISU and through the IRIHC, seeks to develop a network of behavioral health service providers that focuses on opioid use disorders, medication-assisted treatment and evidence-based practice.

Melody Weaver is a clinical assistant professor at the Idaho School of Nursing, teaching both nurse practitioner students and undergraduate nursing students. Her research interests focus on rural older adults, in particular those with dementia and their caregivers, as well as disenfranchised rural populations.

Weaver was instrumental in providing consultation, advocacy and patient screening for COVID-19 in the Pocatello area. Early on, she supervised nursing students to provide ISU student screening at a drive-through location and later, on campus. With an interest in rural health disparities, she has also designed research aimed at increasing awareness of prediabetes among Latino and Hispanic populations in rural Idaho communities.

Cathy Oliphant is an infectious disease/microbiology pharmacist at ISU. She serves as co-chair for the department of pharmacy practice and administrative sciences and as a preceptor for pharmacy students, earning her both Teacher of the Year and Most Influential Professor awards.

She also serves on the ECHO Idaho Opioid Addiction and Treatment panel and the COVID-19 panel, discussing complex pharmaceutical/medication management and clinical trials. An advocate for health care education and patient empowerment, she’s been a member of the Statewide Opioid Strategic Plan and Workgroup Committee. Oliphant has provided naloxone trainings for organizations and community members, as well as opioid education to prescribers, since 2009.

The Idaho Rural Health Association is a nonprofit membership organization that provides a voice on rural health issues through advocacy, communication, education and collaboration. The organization offers a forum for health professionals, community members and health care organizations to work together to identify and find solutions to rural health problems.

Read the stories of all the 2020 Idaho Rural Health Heroes at idahorha.org.