One a Harnett County hog farmer, the other the former president of the North Carolina Hospital Association, Tom Butler and Bill Pully’s backgrounds couldn’t be any more different. But the two men share one common thread — their advocacy for improving rural health in their communities.
Butler and Pully were recipients of two “Culture of Health” awards at the first National Rural Health Day Celebration Luncheon on the campus of Campbell University on Thursday.
Butler, owner of Butler Farms in Lillington, received the Rural Health Advocacy Award for his innovations in the swine industry, creating renewable energy and eliminating harmful pollutants by trapping methane gas (a byproduct of hog waste), among other pioneering efforts. Pully, a 1979 graduate of Campbell Law, is senior counsel with Nexsen Pruet’s Health Care Group, a practice that focuses on helping health care organizations adjust to rapid changes occuring in the field.
Thursday’s luncheon was the culmination of a weeklong celebration of rural health at Campbell University. On Tuesday, the University celebrated the opening of its second health care clinic in Harnett County, a center that will serve thousands of residents of Dunn and the surrounding areas annually.
The ‘High-Tech Redneck’
Tom Butler has been lauded by several publications in recent years for Butler Farms’ work in renewable energy. Born in Harnett County on the family farm, Butler majored in science at East Carolina University.
Butler has been a contract pork producer for 22 years and involved in anaerobic digesters — breaking down biodegradable material to produce energy — for the past decade. Butler Farms has roughly 8,000 hogs, which produce 35,000 gallons of waste per day. When methane from this waste escapes, it can be 20-times more destructive as a greenhouse gas than carbon monoxide. Butler’s farm traps that methane, reducing the farm’s carbon footprint dramatically.
Introduced as the “high-tech redneck” during Thursday’s luncheon, Butler was a man of few words upon receiving his award.
“We are hoping for an organization that is industry changing to rural areas,” he said. “Thank you so much. I’m honored.”
‘Passion’ for rural health
During his time as president of the North Carolina Hospitals Association, Bill Pully was responsible for advocacy and representation for all hospital and health care-related issues in the General Assembly and other state agencies.
One of his most important lobbying victories came in 1990, when he helped win a Medicaid extension for pregnant women and children. He also lobbied heavily for Medicaid extensions under the Affordable Care Act. He was a board member for the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust when it invested a $2 million grant in 2012 to start the Jerry M. Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine at Campbell in 2013. The school’s mission is to educate doctors to serve in rural and medically underserved areas throughout the state and region.
“It’s been a passion for me and many others to serve our rural communities.” Pully said Thursday upon receiving his award. “Rural hospitals can actually do a better job of changing the culture and quality of a patient than large institutions. Rural communities can have familiarity and care about you. They know who you are. I feel so fortunate to have that experience, especially going to school here. And, so thankful to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and its commitment to Campbell.”
National Rural Health Day
Rural communities have unique health care needs. Today more than ever, rural communities must address accessibility issues, a lack of health care providers, the needs of an aging population suffering from a greater number of chronic conditions and larger percentages of un- and underinsured citizens.
And rural hospitals — which are often the economic foundation of their communities in addition to being the primary providers of care — struggle daily as declining reimbursement rates and disproportionate funding levels make it challenging to serve their residents.
That is why the National Organization of State Offices of Rural sets aside the third Thursday of every November to celebrate National Rural Health Day.
National Rural Health Day is an opportunity to “celebrate the Power of Rural” by honoring the selfless, community-minded, “can do” spirit that prevails in rural America. But it also provides a chance to bring to light the unique healthcare challenges that rural citizens face — and showcase the efforts of rural healthcare providers, State Offices of Rural Health and other rural stakeholders to address those challenges.
The health and well-being of rural America was at the forefront of a new program at Campbell University supported in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest funder solely dedicated to health, launched this year.
RWJF awarded Campbell a grant to fund an 18-month national exploration — the Rural Philanthropic Analysis — designed to create, identify and enhance new ideas and insights to improve the practice and impact of charitable organizations when it comes to supporting healthy, equitable rural communities.
The nature of the grant ties in well with the development mission of Campbell University, according to Vice President for Institutional Advancement Britt Davis, also a co-director of the project.
“Thousands of Campbell alumni and friends have invested in our programs in medicine, physical therapy, nursing, pharmacy, public health and other health sciences,” Davis said. “We see this innovative grant jointly supporting the missions of RWJF and Campbell to better serve individuals and families in medically underserved rural communities.”