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‘Standing up for the underserved’: Professor honored for rural work

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March 13, 2017

The phrase “badger them relentlessly” doesn’t always have a positive connotation, but it certainly did in a recent letter to the Florida Rural Health Association nominating Gail Bellamy for a public-service leadership award.

“Tomorrow,” the letter stated, “she heads to the Florida Capitol to badger them relentlessly on why a rural legislative caucus is needed in our state. If they knew her as I do, they would give in now, and save themselves a lot of unnecessary posturing before they end up doing as she asks.”

In recognition of her “compassion, unselfishness and commitment in seeking solutions in the delivery of rural health care,” the FRHA presented Bellamy a 2017 Wendell Rollason Award.

“A huge honor and a huge surprise,” said Bellamy, a professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine, and director of the Florida Blue Center for Rural Health Research and Policy.

That enthusiastic nomination letter was written by her department head, Les Beitsch, who actually knew the man for whom the award is named.

“Wendell Rollason was a pillar and staunch advocate for decades in the movement to protect and educate rural migrant farmworkers,” Beitsch said after Bellamy’s award was announced. “He dedicated his life to this cause. Dr. Gail Bellamy is cut from the same cloth, making health improvement for rural communities her passion and heart-felt commitment. In another era, she and Wendell would have been delightful co-conspirators standing up for the underserved and often forgotten people living in Florida’s agricultural heartland.”

Bellamy earned her Ph.D. in public health from Johns Hopkins University. She’s in the fourth and last year of her term on the executive board of the American Public Health Association. She’s a past president of the National Rural Health Association. And she’s been on the board of directors of the FRHA since 2009 and has served in multiple capacities, including vice president since 2015.

She provides a rural perspective for the various centers and programs at the College of Medicine and across campus. She also joins with faculty members within the Department of Family Medicine and Rural Health and participates on the rural health team, working to develop and improve their educational efforts. Her research focus is ensuring access to quality health care for rural and underserved populations by way of needs assessment, program development and implementation, evaluation and policy research.

Bellamy’s involvement in rural health began in Arizona on a Hopi reservation.

“I learned a lot about the lack of health resources, the social determinants of health and their impact on health and mental health problems, and what it means to not have primary care locally available,” she said. “It’s not that I originally pursued rural health academically or professionally. Rural health just kind of found me, and I found a home in which I could make a difference.”

State Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, who’s an M.D., also received a Rollason Award this year.