Erika Ziller, PhD
Director, Maine Rural Health Research Center
Please see Erika Ziller’s publications on Digital Commons.
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 joins 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 includes 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+), opioid prescribing practices for rural Medicare beneficiaries, and rural non-emergent ED use. Dr. Jonk contributes on 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). 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.
John Gale, MS
Director of Policy Engagement, Senior Research Associate; President-elect of the National Rural Health Association
John Gale is a Senior Research Associate and Director of Policy Engagement at the Maine Rural Health Research Center. John was awarded the Calico Leadership Award in August, 2020 by the National Rural Health Resource Center’s Technical Assistance and Services Center (TASC), which annually presents the award to an outstanding rural health leader.
John’s work focuses on leveraging resources to improve the rural healthcare infrastructure and develop rural systems of care. He serves as the principal investigator for several rural health studies as well as for the Center’s work on the National Flex Monitoring Team and the Frontier Community Health Integration Project Demonstration. His portfolio has included projects on rural health care delivery systems including Rural Health Clinics and Critical Access Hospitals; mental health, substance use, primary care, and EMS services; the community benefit, community health needs assessment, population health strategies of rural hospitals; state and federal program outcome measurement and evaluation; and Veteran’s issues. He has presented nationally and has authored and co-authored a wide range of publications..
Gale is the President-elect (2020) of the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) and currently chairs their Policy Congress as part of his tenure on its Board of Trustees. He is a member of the Technical Expert Panel for the National Quality Forum’s MAP Rural Health Workgroup, the National Academy of Medicine’s Collaborative Working Group on Community Health Needs Assessments Principles and Practice, and serves as an Expert Advisor on the Maternal and Child Health Bureau’s Grand Challenges Project: Preventing Opioid Misuse in Pregnant Women & New Moms. His past service includes chairing the Policy Committee for the New England Rural Health Association, work with the National Association for Rural Mental Health, the Catholic Health Association, the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health, the National Rural Health Resource Center, the National Center for Frontier Communities, and the National Center for Rural Health Works. He recently served as a lead consultant to develop a toolkit for policymakers in developing countries on rural substance use treatment, prevention, and recovery for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Mr. Gale received his Master of Science degree from the Muskie School of Public Service’s graduate program in public health.
Katherine Ahrens, PhD
Assistant Research professor, Muskie School of Public Service, University of Southern Maine
Kate Ahrens is an epidemiologist and assistant research professor in the Public Health Program at the University of Southern Maine, Muskie School of Public Service. Her research focuses on maternal and child health, and rural-urban disparities. Her projects for the Maine Rural Health Research Center include: a time-to-event cohort analysis of rural-urban mortality among respondents of the National Health Interview Survey using interview data linked to the National Death Index; compiling county-level data on HIV prevalence and availability of HIV services across the U.S.; and estimating trends in prevalence of hepatitis C infection among women delivering live births in the U.S. by rurality of county. She comes to the Muskie School after serving as a health scientist in the Office of Population Affairs, the federal office that administers the Title X Family Planning Program. Before that, she was a senior service fellow at the National Center for Health Statistics, where she conducted analyses using national datasets. Dr. Ahrens teaches courses on applied data analysis in the Public Health graduate program at the USM Muskie School of Public Service.
Amanda Burgess, MPPM, MPH
Amanda Burgess is a Research Associate at the Maine Rural Health Research Center. Her research focuses on access to health care services among rural residents. She has directed projects examining access to care among rural Medicare enrollees and contributed to projects investigating the use of telehealth services by rural Medicaid enrollees. Her completed projects include county-level profiles of rural health in Maine; state-level studies of access to care using data from Maine’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System; and an examination of the use of health information exchange to increase access to care for rural veterans. Prior to joining the Muskie School, Amanda worked in public sector development at Partners In Health—a non-profit organization that provides and advocates for quality health care in settings of poverty around the world. Ms. Burgess received her BA from Colby College and her Master of Public Policy and Management and her Master of Public Health degrees from the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine.
Zachariah Croll, MPH
Zachariah Croll is a Research Analyst II at the Maine Rural Health Research Center and participates in the evaluation of the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program. Mr. Croll’s research and policy interests focus on rural population health and access to health care services among rural residents. He has contributed to projects examining rural health insurance coverage; rural health clinic financial performance; access to behavioral health and substance use services; hospital community benefit and population health improvement activity; and rural long-term services and supports. Prior to joining the Muskie School, Mr. Croll was a research analyst at RTI International where he helped examine the consistency of payment incentives, resource usage, and outcomes for populations treated in acute and various post-acute care settings. Mr. Croll received his BA in Sociology from the University of Southern Maine and his Master in Public Health at the USM’s Muskie School of Public Service.
Celia Jewell, RN, BSN, CHES, MPH
Celia Jewell joined the Maine Rural Health Research Center as a Policy Analyst in July of 2020, contributing to policy analysis, evaluation and applied research projects in the USM Flex Monitoring Team in the areas of Critical Access Hospitals, rural health care delivery systems, and the policy environment. Prior to joining MRHRC, Ms. Jewell worked in the healthcare industry as a nurse in the areas of critical care, post-anesthesia care, oncology and community health, and as a program manager for a rapidly expanding palliative medicine practice. She has worked collaboratively, both stateside and abroad, on numerous public health initiatives to improve the health of vulnerable populations. Ms. Jewell is a Certified Health Education Specialist and earned her BSN from the University of Maine, Orono and her MPH from the Public Health Leadership Program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Sara Kahn-Troster, MPH
Sara Kahn-Troster is a Policy Associate at the Maine Rural Health Research Center, focusing on health care financing and the rural health care delivery system, particularly Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs). She also works with the Flex Monitoring Team, a federal grant evaluating the impact of the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Grant Program (Flex). Current projects with the Maine Rural Health Research Center and Flex Monitoring Team include examining the closure of psychiatric beds in rural communities—assessing trends, impact, and policy strategies, and an evaluation of financial improvement interventions. Recently completed projects include an evaluation of the Flex program’s Integration of Innovative Health Care Models program area and an analysis of the ability of CAHs to address the continuum of care around substance use disorders. Ms. Kahn-Troster also works with the Maine Health Access Foundation, serving as an evaluator for their rural grants program and co-authored the Maine Rural Health Innovations Briefs and the Maine Rural Health Profiles. She is an alumna of Muskie’s graduate program in public health.
Karen Pearson, MLIS, MA
Karen Pearson is a Policy Associate in the Maine Rural Health Research Center and the Flex Monitoring Team. Her research interests include the role of EMS in the rural healthcare delivery system, patient safety, population health, long-term care, and veterans. Ms. Pearson has directed projects on rural health access for veterans and on community paramedicine in rural areas. She was the co-principal investigator on a statewide evaluation of community paramedicine, and was the lead author on the report and journal article. She has contributed to rural telehealth projects and an evidence review of rural tobacco prevention and control. She also brings her skills in bibliographic systems and qualitative analysis to other rural-focused projects within the Cutler Institute at the USM Muskie School, including studies of quality improvement processes in rural hospitals and long-term care settings in Maine. Ms. Pearson received her BA from North Park University (Chicago), her MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and her MA from St. Xavier University (Chicago). She also holds a Certificate in Knowledge Management & Knowledge Services from the Special Libraries Association.
Jean Talbot, PhD, MPH
Jean A. Talbot, PhD, MPH, is a Research Associate at the Maine Rural Health Research Center. Her work with the Center has focused primarily on issues relating to behavioral health in rural populations. Recent projects have addressed: adverse childhood experiences in rural and urban contexts; tobacco use and tobacco control/prevention in rural areas; telehealth and telebehavioral health use among rural Medicaid beneficiaries; and rural Mental Health First Aid. Dr. Talbot holds a PhD in clinical psychology from Clark University, and completed clinical training at the VA Boston Healthcare System and the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry. She completed a Master’s in Public Health at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.
Deb Thayer, MBA
Deb Thayer brings her many years of experience with analytic file construction and statistical analysis of claims, surveys, and other health-related data to research projects in the Maine Rural Health Research Center and the Cutler Institute. She has worked with large healthcare claims data including Multi-Payer Claims Database, the Maine All Payer Claims Database, and the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) as part of the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP). She has completed complex statistical analyses using bivariate and multivariate techniques for several projects, including an epidemiological study of Maine Medicaid members with complex medical and behavioral health co-morbidities and a claims-based evaluation of state health reform efforts in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont comparing state-subsidized insurance plan models.
Elora Way, MA
Research Analyst II
Elora works within two teams at the Cutler Institute: the Data Innovation Project and the Maine Rural Health Research Center. Elora brings to the Data Innovation Project multifaceted experience working within and supporting nonprofit organizations and their boards, from Maine to New Mexico. She is both empathic toward the challenges they face and motivated to explore realistic ways to use data to improve their capacity and outcomes. For the Maine Rural Health Research Institute, Elora supports analytics for various research on barriers to health access for rural residents. Elora has experience in program design and implementation, health research, community organizing, and strategic planning, with particular skill in applied research situated in a social justice framework. Elora is earning a Master’s of Public Health from the University of Southern Maine and has a MA in Community Development and Planning and a BA in International Development and Social Change from Clark University.
Andrew Coburn, PhD
Research Professor Emeritus, Consultant
As the founding director of the Maine Rural Health Research Center (MRHRC), one of several national centers funded by the federal Office of Rural Health Policy (HRSA), Professor Coburn (Emeritus) has a distinguished rural health research career spanning topics in rural health policy and human services. Since 1992, Dr. Coburn has led rural health studies focused on critical topics related to rural health access to care and insurance coverage, Critical Access Hospitals and state Rural Hospital Flexibility grant programs, rural patient safety and quality, rural long term services and supports and rural telehealth. Since 1993, Dr. Coburn has served on the Rural Policy Research Institute’s (RUPRI) Panel on Rural Health. With his RUPRI panel colleagues, he has authored or co-authored many reports examining the rural impact of federal Medicare, Medicaid, and other policy proposals. In 2003-4, Dr. Coburn served on the Institute of Medicine’s, Committee on the Future of Rural Health Care that published the report, Quality Through Collaboration: The Future of Rural Health. He was awarded the Distinguished Researcher Award from the National Rural Health Association in 2000. Dr. Coburn received his AB from Brown University and Ph.D. from the Florence Heller Graduate School in Social Policy at Brandeis University.