QUEENSBURY - Dozens of lawyers and others in the legal profession regionally gathered Monday to honor Dr. John Rugge, founder and CEO of Hudson Headwaters Health Network, for his work in making health care more accessible, affordable, and efficient - particularly in the rural areas of the North Country.
At the Warren County Bar Association's annual Law Day breakfast held Friday May 6, Rugge was presented with the group's Liberty Bell award.
Association President Malcolm O'Hara praised Rugge's accomplishments in the region, in the face of upheaval in rural health care, which includes doctors abandoning their rural practices and relocating to metropolitan areas where they can earn far higher income.
"He's developed a system of health care that's really exceptional," O'Hara said, praising how Rugge was able to recruit doctors and meet the varied medical needs of local citizens. "It's amazing how Hudson Headwaters has grown - it's a tremendous asset for this region.
Eileen Haynes, a lawyer with Barlett, Pontiff, Stewart & Rhodes of Glens Falls nominated Rugge for the award. She said that while she served on Hudson Headwaters' board of directors, she saw Rugge develop solutions to a variety of challenges.
"I nominated Rugge because of his vision and innovative approach to health care," she said. "He has a strong commitment to provide primary care to all, regardless of a patient's ability to pay. There is no one more deserving of this award, considering what he's done for our area communities."
She also noted that besides his work in developing and overseeing the operations of Hudson Headwaters' 11 health centers in the region, he has conferred and advised with state legislators and executives in boosting health care statewide - all while managing to personally see a roster of patients.
"i'm amazed what John Rugge crams into a single day - he fills his hours with purpose and passion," she said.
Rugge has served on a national commission on Medicaid reform, the state Hospital Review and Planning Council and as a health care advisor to state Governor Mario Cuomo and former President Bill Clinton.
Recently, he helped devise the Adirondack Medical Home Pilot program, which better coordinates care for people of all incomes by boosting the primary physician's role and expedites information between specialists and patients' primary doctors.
In November, the national Family Medical Education Coalition granted Rugge their "Power to Change the World" award for his role in re-engineering health care.
In accepting the Liberty Bell award last week, Rugge stressed the importance of making sure all receive adequate health care, regardless of income.
"I'm proud to achieve something that should come naturally, to keep the doors of our clinics wide open for everybody, regardless of social status, medical needs or insurance categories," he said.
"If you treat anybody, you need to treat everybody," he said. "You can't live in a small town and say 'you have the wrong kind of insurance' or no insurance and you can't be accepted as a patient."