Outstanding Emerging Network Leader of the Year

The Outstanding Emerging Network Leader Award recognizes extraordinary leadership activities demonstrated by

a new network leader/director in the field of health networks  


2024  Recipient: DEE DEE DEWELL 


Dee Dee

Dee Dee Dewell, from Garden City, was recognized as the NCHN 2024 Outstanding Emerging Network Leader during the National Cooperative of Health Networks’ Awards Program held on April 11, 2024 in Little Rock, AR. The Outstanding Emerging Network Leader Award is given to recognize extraordinary leadership activities demonstrated by a new network leader/director in the field of health networks.

 Dee Dee has served Kansas hospitals & rural healthcare for more than 10 years. Dee Dee started in her most recent network leadership role with the Pioneer Health Network in 2021, where she represents 21 hospitals in SW Kansas.

Pioneer Health Network is a hospital consortium whose purpose is to provide a mechanism for its members to collaborate & pool resources. They partner with various organizations & agencies to leverage economies of scale to bring added value to its members.

 Her energy and drive to maintain local healthcare services through her member hospitals is infectious. Dee Dee provides support to her fellow network members in her home state and beyond. Her desire to learn and grow within her position serves her network daily, providing new services and educational opportunities. Dee Dee represents several frontier hospitals in the SW Kansas area, each with their own unique needs and challenges due to their location, demographics and community size. She meets these challenges with an eye for opportunities and connectivity. While Dee Dee is an experienced network director, she is a terrific candidate for the NCHN Emerging Leader Award. As with anything that she encounters, Dee Dee has jumped into her NCHN membership with energy and openness to learning, networking and sharing with other NHCN members.



2022  Recipient: SARAH GIDEON


sarah godeon

Sarah Gideon has been the Executive Director of the Health Innovations Network of Kansas (HINK) since 2016. HINK serves 16 member hospitals in a 12-county region of northeast and north central Kansas. In her tenure as Executive Director, she has worked tirelessly to build the long-term sustainability of her network and serve the constituents of HINK members. Sarah has a deep interest rural in issues facing Kansans, and in particular those facing the ranching and agricultural community. Sarah is unafraid of challenges and most notably, Sarah successfully developed the first grant that has ever been received by HINK in 2020. (And she did so while completing her MBA at the same time!)

This Rural Health Network Development Planning grant to form HINK’s Suicide Prevention and Improvement Network (SPIN) was the brainchild of Sarah, and is helping HINK lay the groundwork to bring a heightened focus on suicide prevention and particularly to the agricultural and ranching community. HINK’s SPIN is a consortium comprised of 12 hospitals, one community mental health center, and three agricultural organizations and agencies. This project serves HINK’s 12-county, rural region of northeast and north central Kansas. In crafting SPIN and HINK’s application to HRSA, Sarah tapped into her agricultural background, her existing relationships, and her breadth of professional experience to innovatively partner with multiple agricultural support organizations to holistically approach suicide prevention and mental wellness, and work towards developing strategies and partnerships that will be accessible and relevant to the communities that are served by HINK. Underneath this is Sarah’s deep sense of caring for others and her desire to reduce the stigma that is associated with seeking mental health services in the region.

In addition to her role as Executive Director for HINK, Sarah has been actively involved with NCHN since HINK became a member in 2016 and taps into the resources offered by NCHN to further support her will, determination, creativity, and positive outlook for her Network. Sarah currently serves on the NCHN Board of Directors as Immediate Past President. She held previous NCHN board officer roles of Secretary, Vice-President and President. She was also chair of the 2020 Conference Planning Committee that sadly was not able to take place due to the pandemic. Importantly, Sarah also shares her knowledge, drive, and expertise with those outside of her Network. She is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Holton Community Hospital Foundation, volunteers for Thrive! Jackson County to alleviate poverty in her community, and in 2021 was elected as a representative to the National Rural Health Association Rural Health Congress. The Rural Health Congress is NRHA’s policy-making body which determines the association’s positions on public policy.

Sarah has been an active participant in NCHN’s programs and leadership since 2016. She serves on NCHN’s board of directors and has served on the conference planning committee. She regularly participates in calls and events.

Angelina Salazar2021  Recipient: ANGELINA SALAZAR


Angelina is the Chief Executive Officer of Western Healthcare Alliance and its affiliated companies, Healthcare Management and the Community Care Alliance. Working with the Board of Directors, key stakeholders, and the executive management team, she establishes long-range goals, strategies, plans, and policies for the overall benefit of rural healthcare in Colorado and eastern Utah.  She joined the WHA team in May, 2016 to strengthen and lead the marketing and communications programs. In January 2019 she was named CEO after stepping into the interim role in July 2018.

Angelina started her career in education quickly advancing her role from Outreach Coordinator to Regional Development Director for a national nonprofit.  After many years of developing programming and support, Angelina was recruited into the realm of healthcare. She started in marketing for a Critical Access Hospital in western Colorado, quickly advanced to Director of Customer Service, Marketing, Community Relations, and Development.  Before leaving the hospital to join WHA, she held the executive position of Vice President of Business Development.  In that role, she oversaw all communications, volunteers, marketing, physician services and identified business development opportunities.  She established and implemented the infrastructure to support the organization through state and federal grants, fundraising events, and the establishment of a foundation.

In addition, Angelina serves on the National Cooperative of Health Networks Board of Directors, the Colorado Health Institute Board of Directors, the Saybrook University Board of Trustees, the Rueckert-Hartman College for Health Professions Advisory Board, and the Prime Health Advisory Board. Her dedication to solving rural healthcare challenges and building strong relationships in the community have helped to build visibility, impact, and financial stability.

Angelina possesses a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English with a minor in Spanish, two Master of Arts Degrees in Language Acquisition and Psychology as well as a certification in mediation and conflict resolution.

Tara Dilley2018 Recipient: Tara Dilley

Southeast Texas Health System (TX)

Tara joined Southeast Texas Health System (SETHS) in 2006 as a Project Director. Throughout the years, Tara has managed various HRSA-funded projects and programs for SETHS.  Tara’s project leadership and organizational skills has aided in developing sustainable products and services that support members in their medical communities. Tara has been SETHS’ Executive Director since 2016.  Tara holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas and while there, was a student athlete (volleyball). When not leading SETHS, you’ll find Tara training for half marathons, out cycling or in the kitchen baking.  Her weekends are filled with being creative with cake and buttercream…she’s known locally as the “Cake Lady” and her baking business is The Yellow Door Bakery. Living in a town of around 2,100 people, Tara also believes in giving back to the community and volunteers throughout the year with multiple organizations and fundraisers.SETHS has been a member of NCHN since 2012.  Tara is currently NCHN’s board President, having previously served as the board Secretary and Vice President. Tara has attended numerous NCHN events, including Annual Educational and Leadership Experience conferences. While there are so many bonuses of being a member of NCHN, Tara most values the friendships she has made.



AzWRHN 225

2017 Recipient:Leah Meyers

Arizona Rural Women’s Health Network (AZ)

The Arizona Rural Women’s Health Network (AzRWHN) first known as The Women’s Health Council began in 2006 as a group of influential leaders across the state concerned about the health disparities facing this group of Arizonans.  The purpose of formally organizing the Council was to address the lack of health care information, services, and education provided or developed for rural healthcare providers. In 2007, the Council applied for and received funding for a one (1) year Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Planning Grant. It was at this time that the Network expanded as new partners were brought to the table. The Council formally changed the name to The Arizona Rural Women’s Health Network (AzRWHN). In 2011 and 2014 the Network was awarded a three (3) year HRSA Network Development Grant. The mission of the AzRWHN is to build our network partners’capacity to cultivate and promote innovative policies, practices and services that improve the health of women in rural Arizona. The Network’s Vision Statement is women in rural Arizona will experience optimal health and wellness.The network is comprised of 24 members from 17 different organizations, including community health providers, the state health office, the rural health office, universities and community based organizations. Ms. Meyers has been the AzRWHN Director since January 2015. Under her leadership, the network has added 8 new members and has implemented or expanded these successful services: •  Sexual Violence Curriculum for Community Health Workers/Promotoras •  Creating an online version of our sexual violence curriculum • Providing webinars and trainings for rural providers•  Social Media and •  Rural Women’s Health Symposium. 

Donna Newchurch

2016 Recipient:  Donna Newchurch

louisiana rural ambulance alliance (LA)

The Louisiana Rural Ambulance Alliance (LRAA) was formed in 1995 by Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Providers who deliver services to the rural population of Louisiana citizens.  The mission of the LRAA was, and remains so today; to serve as a convening point for EMS         providers with similar delivery issues to receive education on issues specific to their delivery challenges, provide networking opportunities, and identify opportunities to work collectively for the benefit of EMS in Louisiana. In 2005, the LRAA assumed a leadership role in the required     response to the devastating natural disaster we know as Hurricane Katrina. LRAA was the organization which Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contracted with to provide emergency transportation services to citizens of Louisiana – both evacuations from the   hurricane effected areas and for evacuees throughout the state. Under a contract with the State of Louisiana for surge ground and air ambulance assets and staff, the LRAA has continued its leadership role response to the devastating natural disasters including Hurricanes Katrina,   Ike, Gustave, and Karen.  Under Ms. Newchurch's leadership, LRAA's membership has gtown to include sicty-three of the state's sixty-six providers.  Staffing has increased from one, to now six FTE's, one PTE and two contractual staff.  Ms. Newchurch has also spearheaded the   establishment of additional formal networks and other various networking activities.  Ms. Newchurch also serves on the NCHN Board of Directors as the Secretary. 

Darcy Czarnik Laurin2014 Recipient:  Darcy Czarnik Laurin 

Thumb rural Health Network (MI)

Thumb Rural Health Network works to improve comprehensive health services in Michigan’s Thumb region by exploring and facilitating innovative approaches among the Network members. The TRHN membership consists of three county health departments, six critical access hospitals, and two tertiary-level hospitals. Services focus on population health management that include access to health care for the underserved population with an emphasis on primary care and dental services, as well as chronic disease management. Additional services are improved community health status, regional health behaviors data collection and utilization, community access to care, educational opportunities, and leadership development. Each TRHN member organization has a community-based mission and continually seeks and sustains meaningful relationships with other community organizations that increase viability, efficiency, and effectiveness through collaboration.“Since starting in her role as Network Director, Darcy Czarnik Laurin has been very involved in NCHN activities, fostering both her own development as a leader and serving as a resource for other health networks,” said Rebecca Davis, Ph.D., Executive Director of the National Cooperative of Health     Networks. “She has actively participated in two NCHN Leadership Learning Communities, serves on multiple committees, chaired the 2014 Conference Planning Committee, and currently serves as NCHN President. Through all of this, her commitment to rural health and her desire to excel as a network leader are apparent.”

Cassalyn David2013 Recipient: Cassalyn David

Santa Cruz Adolescent Wellness Network (AZ)

“Cassalyn immediately became involved in NCHN when she was employed as the Network Director. Within the first month, she attended the NCHN Leadership Summit and became an active member of the 2012-2013 NCHN Leadership Learning Community,” said Rebecca J. Davis, NCHN’s Executive Director. “Her grasp of the role a network plays in the overall delivery of quality healthcare was immediate. She immediately began developing strategies to ensure the network’s long-term stability, recruited new members and diversified its funding sources. Her peers across the country recognized her leadership skills with this award.”

In her nine months as the Network Director, Cassalyn is particularly proud of the unique activities that have received great responses. To support the creation of school-based health care, the network invited school district administrators on a site visit to school wellness centers in a nearby town. It speaks highly of the network’s reputation that these busy administrators joined in, hit the road, brought their questions, and subsequently expressed enthusiastic support for school wellness in their districts. Health care for adolescents can be a complicated topic, financially and politically, so Cassalyn is working with the network to build support among key stakeholders and emphasize shared values and goals. This means drawing on nationwide resources, connecting with centers in neighboring communities, and building a strong case for health care in schools.

Toniann Richard2012 Recipient: Toniann Richard

Health Care Collaborative of Rural Missouri (MO)

“We received multiple submissions nominating Toniann Richard for this award,” said Rebecca Davis, Executive Director of NCHN. “Since becoming a member in 2009, Toniann has been very active, participating in multiple committees and sharing lessons learned during her tenure as a network director. She truly stands out as a leader among her peers and has tremendous energy for collaboration not only within her region, but with network leaders nationwide.”  According to one nomination for Richard, “Her willingness to share her knowledge is contagious. She is determined, fast acting, resourceful, and displays the great entrepreneurial skills that make a great network leader.”

The HCC was founded in 2006 and, under Toniann Richard’s leadership, has implemented numerous successful programs which enhance the delivery of quality health care in the region. “Our strength lies in developing collaborative relationships,” said Richard. “Utilizing the strengths of individual organizations, we are able to develop services and programs that are larger than any single organization.” Richard has been persistent, systematic, and successful in her efforts to secure funding for program implementation and development, having applied for and received grants to evaluate and address needs for the uninsured and underserved, implement Telemedicine and Electronic Health Records, provide education, support, and access to diabetes care and encourage overall wellness.

Esther2011 Recipient: Esther Hammerschlag

Prince of Wales Health Network (AK)

Current members of the Prince of Wales Health Network are PeaceHealth, SEARHC, State of Alaska Craig Public Health Center, and Alaska Island Community Services.  The Prince of Wales Health Network was formed in 2008 out of a mutually recognized need by POW’s healthcare providers for increased collaboration to improve the quality and accessibility of healthcare services to POW residents.   The original goals of the Network were to evaluate the possibility for longer term collaboration through strengthening relationships between the healthcare provider organizations, updating needs assessments for POW, and developing a strategic plan for primary care services on POW. 

Under Hammerschlag’s skillful leadership, the Network rapidly exceeded expectations, and expanded its objectives to include needs assessment and strategic planning for behavioral health services on POW, market analysis for elder care services on POW, increased support for the Island’s EMS system, and formation of a community based behavioral health coalition. Other Network accomplishments include increased visiting specialty clinics, continuing education opportunities for providers, and increased community education about services available on Prince of Wales Island.  Most important, the Network has facilitated increased communication and collaboration between the healthcare providers serving the island, community stakeholders, and state agency representatives. 

Cindy Large2010 Recipient: Cindy Large

Indiana Statewide Rural Health Network (IN)

Large was specifically recognized her for efficiency as a network leader and her ability to inspire and instill confidence in other leaders who are just embarking on the formation of networks. “Cindy’s nomination said it best,” adds Rebecca Davis, Executive Director of NCHN. According to one member who nominated Large, “Cindy has inspired and encouraged me to move forward with my leadership as Grant Coordinator for our Network Planning Grant.” As a presenter at the 2008 NCHN Annual Conference in San Diego, “She was both welcoming and authentic,” the nominator said. “Her first words, ‘I was sitting in your seat last year, and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing!’ She shared her experience in such a way, that not only did I visit with her at the conference, I’ve called and written her several times since. At the end of each conversation I left with the sense that I know I can do this...”

Large served as the leadership for the initial grant application which gave rise to the Indiana Statewide Rural Health Network in 2008. She assembled partners with the expertise and connections to rural heath, to create a cohesive group of hospitals in rural Indiana, that are working together to improve the quality of and access to healthcare in Indiana’s underserved communities. In just two years, Large has created a fully sustainable network based on a unique combination of membership fees, grant collaborations and partnerships, usage fees and administrative fees. The InSRHN provides an extremely low cost, high return, model to provide each member with substantial return on investment for their time and financial commitment. In 2009, under Cindy’s leadership, the Network achieved a 477% return on investment for its individual members.

Tara Cramer2009 Recipient: Tara Cramer

East Georgia Health Cooperative (GA)

 “Tara’s nomination said it best,” adds Rebecca Davis, Executive Director of NCHN. “Tara never loses sight of why many of us are a part of NCHN and leading the networks across the nation: Care is best delivered close to home and networks contribute significantly to this vision.”  

Tara began working as the Executive Director for the East Georgia Health Cooperative in August 2007 and has grown this once nine-county partnership to a point where it stretches to seventeen counties. The East Georgia Health Cooperative was formed in 1999 as the first multi-county rural health network focused on improving access and health status in Georgia. East Georgia Health Cooperative is a vertical network comprised of Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) corporations, rural hospitals, and an academic medical center. It began as a partnership among care providers focused on supporting one another and improving the health status of the community with Diabetes Education and Management as the primary service of the Cooperative. It has since expanded into many related areas and continues to significantly impact the accessibility of health care for patients in the network members’ communities.