Ceo Builds Healthy Programs For Rim

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Judy Baker

Surrounded by her prized antiques and collectibles in a tiny office in the back of a building, Judy Baker answers phones, signs invoices and takes walk-ins, all with a vibrant smile on her face.

It isn’t unusual for Baker to put in 10-hour days at the office and solve more problems than a typical CEO does in a month. For her effort in creating one of the best health outreach programs in the state that hands out more than $40,000 in scholarships and grants, Baker was recently honored among dozens of other health care professionals.

Baker is CEO of the Mogollon Health Alliance. Her office on Aero Drive is the hub for dozens of community programs. The phones ring off the hook with inquiries for the hospital volunteer programs, two gift shops, a thrift store and the 11th annual Women’s Wellness Forum to name a few.

“I have always been able to do a lot of things at once,” she says.

In the midst of her daily whirlwind, the Roundup sat down with Baker to talk about her recent award and ask how many programs she actually oversees.

“You know I have never totaled up the number of programs,” she says.

We can safely assume it is a lot.

Baker was recently recognized at the second annual Health Care Leadership Awards sponsored by Arizona Business magazine for community outreach for her countless number of programs.

Baker was among three finalists up for the award, which recognizes individuals who have made strides in helping Arizonans receive better health care. The award was presented March 4 at the Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix.

Baker said she was shocked at the size of the event in Phoenix.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, but when we walked in, we realized it was a lot bigger than we thought it was,” she said. “It was shocking to me that I was chosen, because Payson was the only rural community nominated.”

Since her start with the Mogollon Health Alliance (MHA) in 2001, Baker has worked tirelessly to bring new programs to the community and worked on dozens of community boards.

“I can’t think of a better person to receive a community service award than Judy Baker. She should be recognized. She works very hard for her community every day, many times ignoring her own needs — like sleep,” said Jayne Peace-Pyle.

But Baker never planned to become apart of the organization, much less end up running it.

Eight years ago, Baker was happy as a stay-at-home mom with three children. Even then, she volunteered as a board member for the Time Out Shelter, served as board president for the Rim Country Hospice Foundation and chair of the Community Health and Care Fair.

Given her track record in the community, when the MHA was looking for someone to take over its marketing programs in 2001, Baker was an easy choice.

“They were looking for someone to do marketing and fund-raising, and with my history with other organizations, I got the job,” Baker said. “They quickly realized they needed someone more and hired me on full time.”

By 2002, Baker was the executive director and in 2008, she was made CEO.

Today, Baker manages 120 active volunteers, six employees and oversees all of the MHA’s auxiliary programs.

Understandably, Baker gets to spend little time with her retired husband, given the scope of her job.

“When I give, it is 150 percent — so my job isn’t done until the job is done,” she said. “If I get home at 7 p.m., then I don’t mind that.”

When not at the office, one of Baker’s hobbies is appraising antiques.

“I am a certified property appraiser,” she said. “I appraise antiques for volunteers for nothing or I do it for a donation.”

One of Baker’s more memorable appraisals also turned out to be the most lucrative. A man wanted to give Baker a nude statue of a baby, but Baker wanted nothing to do with the statue.

“I did not want it. It was hideous, but I ended up getting it as a gift,” she said. “So I put it in my house and decided to put it on eBay for $10.”

By the time bidding ended on the statue, an Austrian man had offered almost $900. Baker says the statue ended up being from the 1920s and very rare.

“I gave half the money to the person who gave it to me,” she joked.

About the MHA

MHA is a nonprofit group that was formed in 1997 when it took over ownership of the Payson Regional Medical Center. Today it focuses on health education within Payson and northern Gila County.

The mission of the health alliance is to assess the health education needs in the Rim Country, establish programs and provide scholarships to students pursuing health-related careers.

Every year the MHA donates $20,000 in scholarships to students in medical fields and gives $20,000 in grants to 11 rural Rim Country fire departments for medical education.

If a student enrolled in a health profession educational program has to commute to school, then the MHA provides travel reimbursement through the Arizona Health Education Center. The Arizona Health Education Center is a nonprofit organization designed to recruit and develop rural, minority and disadvantaged students to serve in the medically underserved and rural communities of Arizona.

Baker also manages the Gracie Lee Haught Memorial Fund, which is responsible for setting up a medical training facility that educates nurses and medical students in the area.

The memorial fund started four years ago by a friend of the Haughts who wanted to help the community. Today, the association is involved in the rodeo and several other fund-raisers throughout the year.

“It has blossomed into quite the organization,” Baker said.

Recently, Baker received a grant to provide health care access to rural and tribal women throughout the state. Baker hopes to set up a program to give women living in rural areas access to health care.

“Women have got to be able to get access to health information,” she said. “Even in Payson, you would be amazed. If you asked a woman if they had a primary care doctor, most wouldn’t have a clue where to go — they need help.”

Some of the other programs MHA is focusing on include, the MHAX III cardio-pulmonary exercise program for seniors at the Payson Athletic Club. The program provides exercise and rehabilitation to seniors recovering from a stroke or heart attack. Currently the program has 90 participants, many attending the gym free because of grants from the MHA.

The MHA also sponsors and organizes the annual Women’s Wellness Forum. The event is designed to help 300 women rebalance, renew the inspiration within, re-create and illuminate a path to wellness.

MHA also provides free CPR training. When the Friends of the Library needed CPR training, the MHA funded it free of charge.

In the future, Baker said she sees the MHA focusing more on helping other organizations. In addition to running the existing programs, Baker will focus on assisting local organizations needing funding.

“If we see a need, we try to fill that void,” she said.

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