Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the NC Office of Rural Health on National Rural Health Day, 2023

On National Rural Health Day, the North Carolina Rural Health Association (NCRHA), a core program of the Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation (FHLI), will join the North Carolina Office of Rural Health (NCORH) for its 50th-anniversary celebration: Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present, Embracing the Future

The hybrid event will highlight the incredible individuals and organizations striving to enhance the well-being of rural communities throughout North Carolina. Starting at 10 a.m., there will be an in-person celebration at the Bertie County Council on Aging/Senior Center located at 103 W School Street, Windsor, NC, 27983, as well as a virtual option via Microsoft Teams. 

During the event, you can participate in: 

  • Celebration of this year’s North Carolina Community Star, Dr. Karen Smith 
  • Presentation of the National Rural Health Day Gubernatorial Proclamation 
  • Keynote on Rural Social Drivers of Health by Patrick Woodie of The NC Rural Center 
  • Discussions on Healthy Aging in Rural, The Future of Rural Health Focusing on the Youth Voice, and Community Engagement and Power Building 

We will also hear from state and local leaders as well as federal partners, including Diane Hall, Director of the Office of Rural Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tom Morris, Associate Administrator for Rural Health Policy at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Maggie Sauer, Director of the NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Rural Health (ORH), and Reginald Speight, NC Rural Development State Director of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

Join us in Bertie County or online on November 16th. Register today

The Work of Jim Bernstein & the First Office of Rural Health 

This year’s festivities are especially important for FHLI. Jim Bernstein, our founding director, created the North Carolina Office of Rural Health (NCORH)—the first in the country—in 1973. To do so, he collaborated closely with a hand-picked team of individuals dedicated to supporting the needs of rural and underserved communities in our state. 

According to those close to Bernstein, he saw challenges as opportunities for change.  

One of his many gifts was his ability to connect with people across lines of difference. He developed strong, trusting relationships wherever he went—from the heart of rural communities to the halls of Congress. 

Working alongside rural community and health leaders, he helped establish a roadmap for designing and implementing innovative solutions to address even the most complex health challenges. Under his leadership, the NCORH supported groups of local citizens in establishing nearly 85 rural-community-operated health centers in North Carolina.  

The NC Office of Rural Health Today 

The North Carolina Office of Rural Health provides funding, training, and technical assistance to improve the quality, accessibility, and cost-effectiveness of health care in rural and underserved communities. Approximately 3.9 million people currently live in one of North Carolina’s 70 rural counties (defined by an average population density of 250 people per square mile or less).  

Our rural communities have unique opportunities and challenges. Many have been historically underserved by our health care systems, impacting people’s longevity and quality of life. When it comes to understanding and addressing these disparities, all of us at FHLI know that community members have the best insights into how to support the health and well-being of their community. 

The National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health 

Thanks to the work of Bernstein and his team, all 50 states now have offices of rural health. In 1995, the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) was established to assist them in supporting the health care infrastructure for 61 million rural Americans

In 2011, NOSORH launched the first National Rural Health Day. Celebrated every third Thursday in November, this day honors rural health providers and organizations as well as the resourcefulness, ingenuity, resilience, and community-minded spirit that runs through our rural communities. 

A Legacy of Impact in Rural Communities 

Among his many contributions, Bernstein also advocated for more equitable Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement for rural health centers and hospitals nationwide. Both his NCORH leadership and legislative work helped carve a path towards more equitable, community-based health care across the country. 

In 1982, Bernstein became president of the nonprofit we now know as the Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation (FHLI). Though he passed away in 2005, his foundational work and vision continue to have ripple effects throughout North Carolina and beyond. 

FHLI programs proudly carry on this legacy by pulling together vital resources to support community-driven, collaborative, and equity-centered solutions. Learn more about Jim Bernstein [PDF] and read about our programs

The North Carolina Rural Health Association 

One of FHLI’s programs is the North Carolina Rural Health Association (NCRHA), a co-sponsor of the NC Office of Rural Health’s 50th-anniversary celebration. This collaborative network consists of rural health and community leaders from various partner organizations with expertise in health care, education, economic development, local government, and more. 

Every member is committed to improving health outcomes and amplifying the voices of rural communities through education, strategic partnerships, and advocacy. You can read the 2023 North Carolina Rural Health Snapshot report [PDF] compiled by the NCRHA to learn about the current state of rural health, access gaps, inequities, and opportunities in North Carolina.  

According to the report, rural residents are 40 percent more likely to be uninsured and eligible for Medicaid Expansion, which passed earlier this year. When it goes into effect on December 1st, 2023, it will provide more than 600,000 North Carolinians people in the health care coverage gap with access to health insurance coverage. 

While a significant step, Medicaid Expansion is not the end of the road. The NCRHA and all FHLI programs will continue to advocate for policies that make health care more equitable and accessible for all North Carolinians. 

Join Us to “Celebrate the Power of Rural” in North Carolina 

We hope you will join us to “Celebrate the Power of Rural” in North Carolina at the Bertie County Council on Aging/Senior Center or on Microsoft Teams on November 16th, 2023!