2 Grand County healthcare providers honored for service, dedication
Rural healthcare workers are often told to do more with less. They work across several hospitals and care facilities. They play many roles, including educator, volunteer, nurse, doctor and advisor. And they care, a lot.
This is especially true for the recipients of this year’s Award for Excellence in Healthcare Service from the Grand County Rural Health Network: Heather Bentler, a registered nurse, and Dr. John Nichols.
Jen Fanning, executive director of the Rural Health Network, said the award recognizes those who go above and beyond, on and off the job.
Bentler, a Kremmling resident, is being recognized for her work as a registered nurse in the Emergency Department at Middle Park Medical Center – Kremmling, as well as her volunteer work at West Grand High School, including working at bike rodeos and health fairs and implementing a Teddy Bear Clinic for students to see X-rays and CT scans performed on stuffed bears.
“I was a little shocked because there are a lot of people in Grand County that are very deserving,” Bentler said. “It means a lot. It makes me feel good about what I’ve done in the past 16 years, that I could make an impact.”
Nichols, a Fraser resident, is receiving the award because of his volunteer work as medical director for Grand County Search and Rescue, Winter Park Ski Patrol and Grand County Emergency Medical Services. He also volunteers as a rescue member and practices as a neurosurgeon in Pueblo and Farmington, N.M.
“There are a lot of very good and very dedicated providers in Grand County and to be recognized by those people for the work that I’ve done is quite an honor, an unexpected honor,” he said. “I’m very humbled by the award. My reward is the advancement of medical care, especially pre-hospital and backcountry care.”
Fanning said this year’s awards winners were chosen out of six nominees because of their years of service and dedication to their communities.
“Heather has done a tremendous amount of volunteer activities in Kremmling, specifically in the school, really trying to make healthcare information more accessible for people,” Fanning said. “And for Dr. John, I mean almost all of his positions are volunteer positions and they’re pretty significant positions. We hear constantly about his expertise.”
With 27 years of practicing medicine under his belt, Nichols, 65, said he was initially drawn to healthcare because he found a community of people with the shared value and commitment to step out of their comfort zones to help others.
“It all comes back to, whether I’m hanging at a party or at 70 below in the backcountry, these are the people I want to be around,” he said. “I think to say that they are people who care about patients, doesn’t give them the justice that they deserve. It’s easy to say I like to hang out with people who care about other people, but I don’t think that gives them the justice for really what that commitment is.”
Bentler, 46, originally wanted to be a health teacher before deciding to become a nurse, like her mother. Her mother worked in a nursing home, but Bentler was interested in the Emergency Department because of the faster pace and the opportunity to learn something new every day.
“I do like, every once in a while, to do the in-patient (work), but I like to learn new things and it’s just a little more exciting,” she said. “Probably the best thing, is when somebody that you see came in feeling sick but they leave feeling a lot better.”
Nichols also enjoys the more challenging aspects of his job, specifically the backcountry rescues. He said he tries to go on at least 25 search and rescue missions per year.
“It’s the most challenging because it takes me out of the hospital, away from very expensive, highly technical ambulances and puts me and my search and rescue and EMS partners in challenging situations,” Nichols said. “It can be no big deal or it can be life-threatening, not only for the patients but for the caregivers in the field, so many different considerations need to be made. To me it’s the biggest challenge.”
There are many similarities in the challenges of backcountry care and rural healthcare according to Nichols, which is why he is grateful for the work the Rural Health Network to help people access care and reduce the need for pre-hospital care.
In Bentler’s experience, the Rural Health Network has educated community members on the resources available and has really made a change in how healthcare services are coordinated for the people of Grand County.
“I think it’s helped bring all the services that are offered in Grand County together,” she said “Sixteen years ago when I started here, things seemed pretty scattered. I don’t know that patients were aware of everything that was offered. So it’s been helpful.”
Bentler and Nichols will be honored at the 6th annual Bulls, Boots and BBQ fundraiser on Aug. 23 at Fraser’s B Lazy 2 Ranch.
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