Recap: The 2023 Bernstein Event

Engaging conversation and connection-building were at the heart of this year’s Bernstein Event held on October 4th, 2023. A crowd of nearly 300 health care professionals and advocates gathered to celebrate a slate of awardees who all share the common value that connection, collaboration, and community must be front and center in our work to build a healthier North Carolina. 

Make sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of this post to see a full image gallery from the event!

FHLI CEO David Reese Talked About Centering Community for a Healthier North Carolina 

FHLI CEO David Reese talked about FHLI’s future, legacy, and building a healthier North Carolina. He invited all attendees to join him in celebrating Medicaid Expansion, which was fully enacted two weeks before the event. “We also know this isn’t the end of the road as we work to create more opportunity in North Carolina, more access, and more equitable care,” he said. “Medicaid Expansion is an important accomplishment, but it’s also an early step in the journey towards healthy communities. We have more work to do, but we can, and we should take a moment to celebrate this victory.” 

Reese spoke about his idea for “FHLI 2.0,” which he described as a radical re-envisioning of FHLI to truly center community in everything the organization does. “This will seed the work that we do and as we water that seed, it’s going to continue to grow. It’s going to grow with strong roots across our state, building a solid foundation for a healthy future that doesn’t leave rural or marginalized communities behind,” he said. 

Bernstein Health Leadership Fellows & Scholarship Recipients Recognized 

Before the Bernstein Event, the 2022-2024 class of Bernstein Health Leadership Fellows attended an FHLI board meeting to give presentations about their work to improve health in their communities. 

During the main event, board member and emcee Kim Schwartz recognized all current and past Bernstein Fellows and scholarship recipients, who are employees or dependents of employees working in rural health centers. Schwartz noted that there have been 49 Bernstein Fellows thus far, and over 90% of them still live and work in North Carolina. Bernstein Scholarships have also been awarded to more than 103 individuals to help offset the cost of their higher education, since the program’s inception in 2006. 

Governor Roy Cooper & NC DHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley Celebrated Medicaid Expansion  

Governor Roy Cooper and NC DHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley shared pre-recorded videos addressing Bernstein Event attendees. Among other remarks, they, too, celebrated the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina, which is expected to provide coverage to 600,000 people beginning December 1st

Terence “TC” Muhammad & Kari Thatcher, MPH, Received the FHLI Community Achievement Award on Behalf of the Greensboro Health Disparities Collaborative 

The FHLI Community Achievement Award recognizes those who exemplify Jim Bernstein’s lived values: everyone has a right to care, care should be delivered respectfully and effectively, and health care belongs to the community it serves. This year was the first time the award was presented to a collective. Co-chairs Terence “TC” Muhammad and Kari Thatcher, MPH, accepted it on behalf of the Greensboro Health Disparities Collaborative (GHDC), a partnership of community members, academic researchers, and medical professionals working to address health disparities caused by systemic racism. 

The GHDC was founded by community activists in 2003 after they participated in an anti-racism training conducted by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. Muhammad and Thatcher honored the decades of community organizing led by Nettie Coad, Suzanne Plihcik, and Barton Parks that laid the foundation for The Collaborative. They were joined by fellow founding member Sam Cykert, MD, as well as members Kimberly Alexander, MPG and Lizzie Biddle, MA. 

In their speeches, Muhammad and Thatcher spoke about the need to center community and directly address systemic racism to resolve health disparities. Muhammad said, “One of the things about the Health Disparities Collaborative is we don’t just address the health disparities without addressing the racial issues in America and things that go on in our community.” In the same vein, Thatcher said, “As we increase access for our North Carolinians who need it so much, we also need to increase our capacity and skill examining ourselves and how our systems that we love and advocate for may be, and in fact are, perpetuating inequities that we do not want to see.” 

Doyle “Skip” Cummings, PharmD, Received the Jim Bernstein Community Health Career Achievement Award  

The Jim Bernstein Community Health Career Achievement Award is given to someone deeply invested in improving the health of their community or region. This year, FHLI presented this award to Doyle “Skip” Cummings, PharmD. Among his many accomplishments and contributions to rural health care in North Carolina, he is currently the Berbecker Distinguished Professor of Rural Medicine at ECU. He has taught at the university for 35 years and is both a professor of public health and an adjunct professor of family medicine. 

“Remember that change happens at the speed of trust,” Dr. Cummings said in his acceptance speech. “And trust happens at the speed of human relationships. And so, we need to take the time to invest, establish, and build relationships that will eventually result in our ability to collaborate effectively and achieve change.” 

FHLI Honored the Late Dr. James “Jim” Jones, Recipient of the FHLI Lifetime Achievement Award 

The FHLI Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes exceptional contributions to the fields of medicine and public health and was presented for the first time this year. Dr. Jim Jones passed away in May 2023, and his wife, Dr. Michelle Jones, and their children received the award on his behalf.  Among his many accomplishments and contributions, Dr. Jim Jones founded the East Carolina University Department of Family Medicine and was the Associate Dean for Rural Health there for two decades. 

A member of the Lumbee Tribe, he grew up on a rural farm in Pembroke, North Carolina, raised by his grandparents alongside his four siblings. Dr. Jim Jones was famous for saying, “The quality of your health care should not be determined by your ZIP Code.” He was a trailblazer and a leader, and his impact on health care in rural North Carolina will impact generations to come. 

“If Jim were here today, he would challenge each and every one of us to consider how we can help make health care in North Carolina the highest quality across the entire state from the ivory towers to the rural farms and fishing villages,” said Dr. Michelle Jones as she accepted the award on behalf of her late husband. 

Thank You for Supporting Collaborative, Equity-Centered, & Community-Driven Health Care in North Carolina!

Thanks to all who attended the 2023 Bernstein Event and for your ongoing support. We look forward to connecting and engaging with you over the next year and beyond. 

When Jim Bernstein joined as the first director of our nonprofit, he wanted to ensure it played an ongoing role fostering new generations of leaders dedicated to improving health in North Carolina. This event and the Bernstein Fellows and Scholars it helps fund are manifestations of that legacy that includes:

  • More than $130,000 given in Bernstein Scholarships
  • 49 outstanding future health leaders who make up our Bernstein Fellows and Fellowship alumni. 

Additionally, the event’s sponsors and everyone who joined us is helping FHLI achieve our 2023 goals, including:

  • Expanding NC Rural Health Association membership
  • Developing key contacts in every rural county
  • Expanding programmatic work into more than half of all North Carolina counties
  • Engaging rural communities in Bertie and McDowell Counties to improve behavioral health access
  • Developing relationships with leaders in the North Carolina House and Senate and identifying top policy priorities
  • Establishing an advocacy network for rural hospitals, clinics, and health centers
  • Advocating for equitable, forward-thinking health access legislation
  • Signing NCCARE360 contracts with all active health systems and one additional system not currently on the platform.

If you didn’t have the chance to join us for the 2023 Bernstein Event, or if you did and are feeling extra generous, you can make a donation today to help support our ambitious vision for a healthier North Carolina!