Application Now Open for the Bernstein Fellows Class of 2017-2019!

The Bernstein Fellows program is now looking for applicants for the Bernstein Fellows class of 2017-2019. To apply, click here.

What is the Bernstein Fellows program?

The Bernstein Fellows program commemorates the life and career of James D. Bernstein, North Carolina’s rural health pioneer who led the efforts for community-driven care of low- and moderate- income, isolated, and underserved populations for more than 30 years.

Who should apply?

Fellowships are awarded to up-and-coming health professionals from a variety of disciplines (primary care, pharmacy, behavioral health, oral health, social work, etc.).

Applicants should:

  • Work in an administrative or clinical capacity in a rural and/or underserved community in North Carolina or work with an organization that focuses on rural and/or underserved communities
  • Demonstrate a strong commitment to remaining in North Carolina
  • Demonstrate a strong commitment to underserved populations and community-driven health care
  • Demonstrate leadership potential (such as, being a self-starter, resourceful, industrious, motivated, mature, resilient, a good communicator, problem-solver, and team player)
  • Be sensitive to cultural diversity among client populations in health care settings and programs, and
  • Hold realistic expectations about working in rural or underserved communities and with vulnerable populations

What does the fellowship involve?

Fellowships are awarded for two-year period (October 2017-October 2019) and are comprised of an educational component and and individual project centered on the core elements of leadership, rural life, NC health sector, and partnerships. Fellows will be expected to spend 10-12 percent of their work time on fellowship activities and will receive up to $3,000 in support of the developing his/her project.

[box] For more information about the fellowship and the application process, click here. [/box]

Other Questions?

Contact Rachel Presslein:
919.821.0485 ext. 221


On October 19th and 20th more than 40 people from across North Carolina gathered at the NC State University McKimmon Center for the NC Rural Health Leadership Alliance’s (NCRHLA) inaugural events. The gathering kicked off on the 19th with an open reception that welcomed guests to learn more about the NCRHLA and connect new partners to its current members. The NCRHLA is a coordinated network of leaders and practitioners aimed at improving the health of rural North Carolinians through education and strategic partnerships. Their work is currently focused on achieving the recommendations of the NC Rural Health Action Plan.

thumbnail_20161020_091956bOn October 20th, a select group of participants from local, regional and state organizations supporting public health and economic development attended the Discovery & Practice Summit: Connections for Community Health and Economic Vitality. The goal of the Summit was to move North Carolina forward in improving economic and community health and wellbeing through collaboration. The Summit was organized on the premise that collaboration across sectors is essential for healthy, vibrant communities. The day was devoted to exploring opportunities for partnership between public health and economic development practitioners – just two of the many partners needed for successful community change. Through the day, sessions narrowed to focus on community strategies for healthy eating and active living (HEAL) that could have health and economic benefits.

Jamie Cousins, a current Jim Bernstein Health Leadership Fellow, led the coordination of the event. “Being a part of the Bernstein Fellowship, I’ve been inspired and challenged (in the best way) by Jim Bernstein’s commitment and leadership to rural North Carolina communities. The Summit and continued dialogue and action are humble efforts to carry forward his spirit and belief in our rural communities. I am truly grateful to the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust for the support which made the Summit a reality. The NC Rural Health Leadership Alliance provided financial support through the National Rural Health Leadership grant and was a terrific partner in this event.”

In review of the event, participants shared that the Summit was a valuable investment of their time and that the three primary objectives of the Summit were well-met:

  • they were more aware of practical strategies that address the goals of public health and economic development while supporting healthy eating and active living;
  • they could identify collaborative opportunities for professionals, advocates, and residents to advance economic vitality and health for all;
  • they plan to take action to work jointly to advance public health and economic vitality.

20161020_111611Participants wrote Commitment Cards declaring at least one action to complete before the end of 2016.  Most of the commitments involved reaching out to local partners such as economic development professionals or chambers of commerce to talk about opportunities for collaboration. Other commitments included sharing information from the Summit and connecting with agencies to move work forward together. As Jamie Cousins continues her Bernstein Fellowship and supports the ideas and new collaborations from the Summit, participants will be contacted in early January to learn how they’ve progressed. Additionally, Summit proceedings will be shared, and several small group discussions are planned to continue to advance dialogue and action.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and the National Rural Health Association provided funding for the Summit, and the NC Rural Health Leadership Alliance, the Jim Bernstein Community Health Leadership Fellows Program, the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation, the North Carolina Institute of Medicine, and the NC Division of Public Health Community and Clinical Connections for Prevention and Health Branch all contributed resources for the event.


Mark your calendars! October 19th and 20th are going to be two exciting days packed with events designed to address the intersection of economic vitality and health.


First, on October 19th , 2016, the North Carolina Institute of Medicine (NCIOM) will have their annual meeting to address how North Carolina can develop health and economic policies to improve health outcomes and boost local economies. The event will take place at the McKimmon Center at North Carolina State University from 8am-4pm. For more information about this event, click here.



ncruralBuilding upon this event, the NC Rural Health Leadership Alliance (NCRHLA), program of the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation, will hold a reception immediately following the meeting (from 4pm-6pm) to celebrate progress in carrying forward the North Carolina Rural Health Action Plan published in 2014 by NCIOM. Come meet, mingle, and hear about emerging opportunities for rural health! To register
for this event by October 11th, click here.


Jamie Cousins, MPALastly, Bernstein Fellow Jamie Cousins, in partnership with the NCRHLA, will host the Discovery & Practice Summit: Connections for Community Health and Economic Vitality in Rural NC on October 20th from 8:15am-3:30pm. This event will convene selected teams from counties across the state to discuss connections between public health and economic vitality. Discussion will surround emerging strategies and practical solutions teams may pursue together to benefit their communities. With questions about the event, please contact

Funding for the NCRHLA Reception and Discovery & Practice Summit is provided by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and the National Rural Health Association. The events are supported by the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation’s Jim Bernstein Community Health Leadership Fellows Program, the North Carolina Institute of Medicine, and the NC Division of Public Health, Community and Clinical Connections for Prevention and Health Branch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErin Hultgren, a Bernstein Fellow and Program Manager at Gaston Family Health Services (GFHS) is currently assisting with a behavioral health initiative that will improve and expand the delivery of substance abuse services and Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) to underserved populations with opioid use disorders. This initiative is funded by the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) through their recent Substance Abuse Service Expansion, which awarded a total of $94 million in funding to health centers across the United States. GFHS was one of seven centers in North Carolina and one of 271 centers across 45 states to be awarded.

The additional grant money will enable GFHS to expand behavioral health and substance abuse services to serve its patient panel as well as extending services to both pregnant women and people living with HIV/AIDS and opioid addiction. Through its history of collaborative work with the Gaston County Health Department (GCHD), GFHS will work with GCHD and other community partners to identify pregnant and parenting women and HIV+/AIDS patients who need a more integrated approach to their opioid addiction including primary care, behavioral health, MAT and counseling services. Identification is only the first step. The ultimate goal of GFHS is to not only identify these patients, but also provide them with the integrated care they need to achieve and sustain recovery.

Additionally, GFHS will enhance their existing integrated model by:

  • Increasing the number of patients screened.
  • Connecting identified patients to treatment.
  • Hiring additional behavioral health providers to connect patients with access to MAT treatment.
  • Providing training and education for providers on best practices for opiate prescription.
  • Working with patients and community members on the availability and use of opioid antagonists.

As the HIV program manager for GFHS, Erin’s primary role in this initiative is to increase screening and education regarding the availability of testing and treatment for patients with or at risk of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, both associated with opioid use disorders. Erin will work with behavioral health staff to update risk assessments to include questions regarding sexual health, HIV and Hepatitis C risk. Since integration and coordination of services is key to success, Erin will coordinate services between GFHS and health departments in the area to ensure patient’s have access to HIV testing and clinical services regardless of ability to pay.  Although she’s new to the work of opioid addiction, she believes that an integrated care approach is the best way to provide support for these substance abuse issues.

“As we move forward, I think collaboration and communicating between partners will be our largest challenge and biggest asset,” she says. “Education will be critical – educating primary care providers, working with ERs, changing protocols, etc. Opioid addiction has far-reaching consequences and it will take all players at the table to conquer this public health crisis.”

For more information about Gaston Family Health services and their unique integrated care approach, visit

Sarah Thach PortraitIn western North Carolina, the number of adults aged 65 and over is expected to double in the next 40 years, becoming the largest demographic by 2030.

Sarah Thach, a Bernstein Fellow alumni, helps pilot programs aimed at helping primary care doctors prepare for the influx of elderly patients. “We are never going to have enough geriatricians so it falls to the primary care doctor to manage care for older adults.”

Care for the elderly requires a team-based approach. As our population ages, the framework for care delivery will adjust to include communication among a team of professionals including nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, and behavioral therapists.

One of Thach’s areas of interest is preparing doctors for a team-based approach to care delivery for aging patients. She works for the Center for Healthy Aging, a program of the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) in Asheville, North Carolina.

Thach and her colleagues hosted focus groups with primary care physicians in the region about the joys and challenges of working with the elderly. There was a constant theme—doctors need more time with elderly patients.

[box type=”bio”] Care for the elderly requires a team-based approach.[/box]

If an elderly patient visits the doctor because their shoulder hurts, then the doctor will address the shoulder, and may not have time to address the other needs of the patients. And elderly patients tend to have many health complications.

As we age, our illnesses tend to become more chronic and complex. Most of us will need more medication. “The average older adult is on eight medications,” said Thach. It takes time to help a patient manage their medications. To free up time for primary care doctors, Thach, along with her Bernstein Fellowship mentor Dr. Suzanne Landis and colleagues implemented a system of team-based care to increase the number of older adult patients receiving Medicare Annual Wellness Visits, an annual preventative care checkup for older adults. Nationwide, only 14 percent of older adults get this service, but MAHEC’s team has been able to reach 45 percent of older adult patients.  They have accomplished this by having a clinical pharmacist or a licensed practical nurse provide the visits and calling patients to invite them in for the visit. “Medicine is moving from reactive to proactive scheduling to enhance patient care,” said Thach.

These yearly wellness visits address preventive services, screening and vaccinations for the elderly, so that the primary care doctor can focus on acute and chronic needs, like a hurt shoulder.
Wellness Team Photo“Doctors can focus on patients’ priorities, knowing prevention issues are being addressed by their colleagues,” said. Thach The Center for Health Aging also encourages older adult patients to think about and document their end-of-life preferences. “Most people don’t want to be on chemotherapy at the end of their life, and they want to die at home and not in a hospital,” said Thach. “And it’s helpful for families to know their loved one’s wishes, so it’s not all on them when the time comes.”

Thach recently graduated from the Foundation’s Jim Bernstein Community Health Leadership Fellowship, a program that engages emerging health leaders and encourages their work with funding and development training. The Foundation is proud to support innovative leaders like Thach, who champion new ideas and assist communities in cultivating better health outcomes.