Who are we?

The Maine Rural Health Research Center was founded in 1992 to inform healthcare policymaking and the delivery of rural health services through research, policy analysis, and technical assistance, and has focused its research agenda on some of the most intractable health access problems facing rural residents. The Center is one of the federally designated Rural Health Research Centers funded by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy in the Health Resources and Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Center is located within the Cutler Institute, the research arm of the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. The Center staff serve as experts in the Muskie School’s Population Health and Health Policy research program and graduate degree program in Public Health. The Center is also able to draw upon the expertise of faculty and staff who bring decades of experience in policy, social work, law, education, business administration, and public health, and this multidisciplinary approach allows the Center, the Institute, and the School to provide innovative outcomes to complex local, national, and international issues.

Who are our partners?

The Maine Rural Health Research Center (MRHRC) collaborates with several organizations nationally and regionally, and conducts research and technical assistance projects with support from a variety of state, federal, and private foundations. For example, along with the Universities of Minnesota and North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the MRHRC is a partner in the Flex Monitoring Team that evaluates the impact of the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program. We also work with the Rural Telehealth Research Center at the University of Iowa on projects related to access to telebehavioral health and school-based telehealth. Our work on health systems reform is conducted in part with the Rural Policy Research Institute’s (RUPRI) Panel on Rural Health. Closer to home, the MRHRC has worked with the Maine Health Access Foundation on issues of health access and health equity for rural Mainers, and recently produced a summary document profiling the health status of each of Maine’s 16 counties. 

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 School is nationally recognized for applying innovative knowledge to critical issues in the fields of sustainable development and health and human service policy and management, and is home to the Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy.

Who directs the MRHRC?

Erika Ziller, PhD
Director, Maine Rural Health Research Center

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, Maine Rural Health Research Center

Yvonne Jonk recently joined the Maine Rural Health Research Center as Deputy Director, bringing 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, and held a faculty appointment there.  Dr. Jonk’s areas of specialization include rural health, access to care, health insurance coverage, program evaluation, and cost and cost effectiveness analyses.  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 and the use and cost of health services by the elderly (65+) and the oldest old (age 85+).  Dr. Jonk contributes towards projects with the Rural Telehealth Research Center addressing the use of telebehavioral health services by the Medicaid population and the use of telehealth services within Maine using Maine’s All Payer Claims Dataset (APCD).  She is also collaborating on projects establishing quality metrics for EMS services with the Flex Monitoring Team. Dr. Jonk received her PhD in Applied Economics from the University of Minnesota, where she conducted research with the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and 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 25 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. Our areas of research include:

  • Access/Insurance
  • EMS
  • Health System Reform
  • Long Term Services and Supports
  • Medicaid and Medicare
  • Mental Health/Substance Use Disorders
  • Population Health
  • Rural Health Clinics and Rural Hospitals

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. 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 FORHP-funded rural health research centers is available on the Rural Health Research Gateway.

Twitter