Cutler Institute

Maine Rural Health Research Center FAQ

Who are we?

The Maine Rural Health Research Center (MRHRC) was founded in 1992 to inform healthcare policymaking and the delivery of rural health services through research, policy analysis, and technical assistance. We are one of eight national rural health research and policy analysis centers funded by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP) in the Health Resources and Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services. The MRHRC is a collaborating partner in the Flex Monitoring Team that evaluates the impact of the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program, and in the Rural Telehealth Research Center (initiatives also funded by the FORHP). The MRHRC also conducts research and technical assistance projects with support from a variety of state, federal, and private foundation sources.

Where are we located?

Located in Portland, Maine, the MRHRC is based in the University of Southern Maine’s, Muskie School of Public Service. The MRHRC draws on the faculty and staff resources of the Muskie School’s academic programs and the Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy.

Who directs the MRHRC?

Erika Ziller, PhD, Director

Erika began her career as a social worker in rural Maine where she quickly realized that many of the challenges facing her clients were exacerbated by health and social policies that were unresponsive to their needs. Since then, she has been committed to policy-informed research aimed at reducing health disparities for vulnerable populations, particularly rural residents. In her 20 years with the Maine Rural Health Research Center, Erika has directed numerous studies on rural health care access, coverage, and health reform, including several analyses of the importance of public health insurance (Medicaid and CHIP) in ensuring coverage for rural residents. In 2011, Erika received the Louis Gorin Award for Outstanding Achievement in Rural Health Care from the National Rural Health Association in recognition of her contributions to rural health policy. Erika grew up in small-town Maine and obtained her PhD in public policy from the University of Southern Maine in 2012.

Yvonne Jonk, PhD, Deputy Director

Deputy Director, Maine Rural Health Research Center

Yvonne Jonk recently joined the Maine Rural Health Research Center as Deputy Director, bringing to the Center her expertise in health economics. She also holds the position of Associate Research Professor in the graduate program in public health at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service. She was previously the Associate Director of the Center for Comparative Effectiveness Analytics at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, where she also held a faculty appointment. Dr. Jonk’s areas of specialization include statistics and econometrics, rural health, access to care and insurance coverage, and health services research and policy. Her current portfolio of work with the Maine Rural Health Research Center will include research on acuity differences in newly admitted rural and urban nursing home residents, projects using the Medicare Beneficiary Survey and other national datasets, and projects with the Flex Monitoring Team. Dr. Jonk received her PhD in Applied Economics from the University of Minnesota, where she also conducted research with the Minnesota Rural Health Research Center and taught in the Division of Health Policy and Management at the University of Minnesota.

Who are our core staff?

MRHRC staff members have extensive capabilities in rural health services and policy research. With a core staff of 10, we have well-established and experienced research teams with both content and methodological expertise appropriate to their area of rural research. The MRHRC draws on the multidisciplinary faculty and research resources and capacity of the Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy—providing us the ability to engage in both quantitative and qualitative research. Visit our staff page for more information.

What are our areas of research?

For over 20 years, our research agenda has focused on the health care access problems facing rural residents, especially those with financial barriers due to lack of insurance or under-insurance, those with behavioral health issues, and those in need of long-term services and supports (LTSS). Our work has helped reveal the role of policy and health system organization and financing on rural health access.

The MRHRC conducts studies and projects with a national, state, and/or local focus. To achieve a systemic understanding of rural health access, our work has focused on the continuum of health care services from preventive and primary care, to emergency and hospital care, and to the long-term services and supports (LTSS) needs of rural seniors and individuals with disabilities. Our Center’s work as part of the Flex Monitoring Team involves research on the community benefit and population health strategies of Critical Access Hospitals in 45 states. In Maine we have worked on projects related to health system transformation and innovative models for healthcare delivery, including community In 2016, we released the Maine Rural Health Profiles, in partnership with the Maine Health Access Foundation, which offers a detailed look at the status of rural health and the rural health system, both statewide and in each of Maine’s 16 counties. Visit our MRHRC publications page to view the scope of our research efforts.

Who funds us?

Since 1992, we have received core funding from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP). FORHP was created in 1987 to advise the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on health care issues impacting rural communities. Funding for the MRHRC is part of the FORHP-funded Rural Health Research Centers Program, which is the only Federal research program entirely dedicated to producing policy-relevant research on health care and population health in rural areas. Research from these eight FORHP-funded rural health research centers is available on the Rural Health Research Gateway.

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