A master’s degree and a midcareer shift put Lisa in a new role helping rural communities get the health care they need.
As a West Virginia native, Lisa Pareso M’18 knows the appeal of wild and wonderful places in rural America. She lives in Pittsburgh but loves to escape to a cabin back in her home state. It’s an ideal place for hiking and communing with nature with her husband, Sam, their two grown children, granddaughter, and the couple’s pair of loyal dogs.
But Lisa also understands some of the challenges faced by people in rural areas. As manager of the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model at Washington Health System, she oversees the program’s innovative efforts to serve patients living far from urban centers in Washington, Greene, and Fayette counties.
While earning her master’s degree in health services administration, she says she found a new calling. “I’d worked in healthcare for almost 20 years at that point but had never dealt with issues like transportation and food insecurity,” says Lisa. She previously managed clinical operations for primary care and specialists’ offices. “I was greatly intrigued in a class discussion when I heard the phrase, ‘Your ZIP code determines your longevity and health outcomes.”
“Especially in rural communities, transportation is our biggest barrier to healthcare,” she says. “There’s no public transportation, and many people don’t own cars. For them to get to a doctor’s appointment is extremely difficult.”
The Pennsylvania Rural Health Model is a collaboration between the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and the Pennsylvania Department of Health with rural hospitals and healthcare networks throughout the state. The model explores ways to improve rural healthcare delivery while supporting the financial viability of smaller hospitals and clinics in those communities.
For example, hospitals in Washington and Waynesville have fewer nurses than they once did, so Lisa and her team have been tasked with calling patients after their discharge from the hospital, a job the nursing unit used to handle. It’s a meaningful way to touch base with recovering patients and identify any problems, such as patients without a ride to the doctor for a post-discharge follow-up. She can then coordinate with a social worker to assist.
Rural areas also have been hard hit by the opioid epidemic. An essential part of Lisa’s job is focusing on prenatal patients with an opioid use disorder to reduce or prevent neonatal abstinence syndrome. “We just want to help mom and dad and even the grandparents get the services they need so that if parents are in treatment and recovery, we make sure they are successful,” she says. “We want to keep the family together, keep everyone safe and on the right path.”
Lisa credits her graduate study at RMU and the contacts she made there with helping her turn her career in a rewarding new direction. “It helped me along the path to find my absolute passion in healthcare,” she says. “I have a two-year-old granddaughter. I love this work and hope to make the world better for her.”