Birch to advise nationally

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Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson has appointed Sue Birch to serve on a rural health care advisory committee.

Birch, the executive director of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, left for West Virginia on Friday for her first meeting as part of the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services.

Birch will be among 21 members of the board.

"I am honored and excited about this opportunity," Birch said. "This appointment gives Colorado and the western region of the United States a direct voice on the national level."

Birch said this is the first time a Coloradan has been appointed to the committee.

Birch, who learned of the invitation Saturday, said she already had received her first phone call from a federal official asking for advice on rural health care.

The committee, of which David Beasley is the chairman, has 16 rural health experts and five human services experts. Birch, who has been with the Northwest Colorado VNA for 10 years, is a health expert and has been asked to serve on the committee for four years.

Birch was encouraged to take the position by Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Scott McInnis.

Rachel Audi, an aide for Allard, called Birch one of Colorado's health care leaders. Audi, who has worked with Birch on state issues, said it is an exciting appointment for Colorado.

"She is an excellent communicator, a visionary. She eloquently persuades (people) in what she believes in," Audi said.

Many of the major problems in the nation's health care system hit rural areas first, Birch said.

One of the biggest challenges will be looking at the nation's health insurance system. She said rural areas such as Steamboat have fewer health insurance carriers, the cost of health insurance is continually being passed on to the employee, and more employers are reducing health benefits or dropping health insurance.

Birch said the group also would look at Medicaid and Medicare, which cover 65 percent of the nation's medical costs.

Birch has experience with the health care issue. She has been working with Club 20, an organization representing counties in Western Colorado. "It is just like what we are trying to do at the local and regional level. Now, (I am) doing it at the national level," she said.

Birch is a member of the 2002 Cohort Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellows Program and serves on several state committees including Home Care Association of Colorado, Colo-rado Association of Local Public Health Leaders, Colorado Public Health Nurses Association and the Caring for Colorado Foundation.

The national committee meets three times a year, once in Washington D.C. and twice in rural areas throughout the country.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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