People

Meet our researchers

Nicholas Mohr, MD, MS

Nicholas Mohr, MD, MS

RTRC Director

Dr. Mohr is a Professor of Emergency Medicine, Anesthesia Critical Care, and Epidemiology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. His academic interests include rural health and novel methods of care delivery, especially as it impacts survival from early critical illness. His recent work on rural healthcare regionalization has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Veterans Health Administration, and the Emergency Medicine Foundation. He has published more than 180 manuscripts and textbook chapters, with over 40 focused on rural telehealth.

Marcia Ward, PhD

Marcia M. Ward, PhD

RTRC Deputy Director

Dr. Ward is a Professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy in the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa. She is Director of the Center for Health Policy and Research (CHPR) at the University of Iowa. Her research focuses on telehealth, health services research, and rural healthcare delivery. She has been the PI of numerous large grants and is the author of over 150 peer review journal articles. She recently co-chaired the National Quality Forum (NQF) Committee on the Framework for Telehealth Measures and the NQF Committee on the Rural Telehealth and Healthcare System Readiness Measurement Framework. Prior to joining the University of Iowa in 1997, Dr. Ward co-led the Health Outcomes Program at SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute) where she served as Associate Director of the Center for Health Sciences. She received her PhD in clinical psychology from the Ohio State University and is a fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine.

Knute Carter

Knute Carter, PhD

RTRC Co-investigator

Dr. Carter is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Deputy Director of the Center for Public Health Statistics (CPHS) in the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa. Dr. Carter has over 25 years of experience in health services research. Before moving to the United States, he conducted research at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Dental Statistics and Research Unit where he was involved in the design, implementation, and analysis of large scale national dental public health surveys, and longitudinal studies of the oral health of older adults with dementia and in nursing homes. He has a wealth of experience with the use of large medical claims databases for research, including Iowa Medicaid claims, and private commercial insurance claims. Dr. Carter provides statistical expertise to researchers across campus and has been conducting research with the RTRC since 2015.

Kimberley Fox

Kimberley S. Fox, MPA

RTRC Co-investigator

Ms. Fox is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service. Her research and policy interests are in the areas of child health, Medicaid/CHIP, quality measurement and public reporting, patient experience of care and expanding and improving healthcare access and quality for poor and underserved populations. She previously has led evaluations funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services of innovative Medicaid value-based purchasing strategies including Maine’s CHIPRA quality demonstration grant to improve health outcomes for children on Medicaid/CHIP and children in foster care with special needs and MaineCare’s Health Homes initiative to assess how practice transformation and payment changes help improve the quality and cost of care for adults and children. She has also conducted policy analyses of strategies to improve access to care including expansion of premium assistance programs, pay for performance programs, state health reform including individual and small group market reforms, as well as state pharmacy assistance programs and maximizing enrollment in Medicare Savings Programs for low-income elderly funded by the Commonwealth Fund and the Robert Wood Johnson. She has evaluated use of telehealth in school-based settings, and methods for increasing transparency of price and quality information and consumer engagement in health care decisions. Prior to moving to Maine, she worked at the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy, Baruch College’s School of Public Policy, the Medical and Health Research Association, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, and the United Hospital Fund of NYC.

Yvonne Jonk

Yvonne Jonk, PhD

RTRC Co-investigator

Dr. Jonk is an Associate Research Professor within the Department of Public Health at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service and is the Deputy Director of the Maine Rural Health Research Center. As a health economist, Dr. Jonk has over 20 years of experience working within the field of health services research.┬áDr. Jonk’s areas of specialization include rural health, access to care, health insurance coverage, program evaluation, and cost and cost effectiveness analyses. Her current projects focus on analyzing Medicare and Medicaid administrative claims data to address beneficiaries’ use of telehealth to access outpatient and behavioral health services, the use of telehealth within Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), the spectrum of services provided by RHCs, the use of Z codes to record social problems, and barriers to testing for COVID-19 within rural areas.

Saif Khairat, PhD

Saif Khairat, PhD, MPH

RTRC Co-investigator

Dr. Khairat is the Beerstecher-Blackwell Distinguished Term Scholar and associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Khairat holds joint appointments at the Carolina Health Informatics Program, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, and the School of Nursing. He is also the Director of the Carolina Applied Informatics Research (CAIR) group. His work focuses on the use of telemedicine to improve health access, disparities, and outcomes using mixed-methods and geospatial analysis. Dr. Khairat led a $1 million federally funded telehealth center with a catchment area of 18 million people in the Great Plains region. He has authored over 80 influential scientific articles in more than 35 different peer-reviewed journals and conferences, and has been an investigator for more than $7.5 million in research grants over the past five years. His work has been featured in major media outlets, including the Harvard Business Review (HBR), American Medical Association (AMA), and the AHRQ Patient Safety Net (PSNET).

Kimberly A. S. Merchant, MA

Kimberly A. S. Merchant, MA

RTRC Project Manager

Ms. Merchant is Project Manager of RTRC and a research specialist in the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa. She brings a background of organization management, communication, program development, and 10 years of research project management to RTRC. Since coming to the University of Iowa College of Public Health in 2008, she has facilitated worksite wellness group sessions, written and designed newsletters and other publications, conducted a statewide eating disorders needs assessment, was project coordinator for the RUPRI Center's Mission: Lifeline program evaluations in South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Minnesota, and been involved in a number of qualitative research studies.

Heidi O'Connor

Heidi O'Connor, MS

RTRC Co-investigator

Ms. O’Connor is a Sr. Data Analyst at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service. She brings a background of more than 20 years of health services research and analysis with areas of specialization including rural health, access to care, health insurance coverage, program evaluation, and cost and cost effectiveness analyses. Over her career, she has worked with researchers at the University of Minnesota, University of North Dakota and University of Southern Maine, as well as within the private sector (e.g. Fairview Health System and Blue Cross Blue Shield). Since coming to the University of Southern Maine in 2022, her work has included creating working datasets and analyzing Medicare and Medicaid administrative claims data to address beneficiaries’ use of telehealth to access outpatient and behavioral health services, the use of telehealth within rural health clinics (RHCs) and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), the spectrum of services provided by RHCs, the use of Z codes to record social problems, and barriers to testing for COVID-19 within rural areas.

Arrianna Marie Planey

Arrianna Marie Planey, PhD, MA

RTRC Co-investigator

Dr. Planey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She is also a Faculty Fellow in the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. She is a health/medical geographer with an overarching interest in health and healthcare equity. Her expertise includes conceptualizing and measuring health care access, health workforce issues, and chronic illnesses. Her research and teaching focuses include the application of spatial statistical and epidemiologic methods to study health(care) policies, healthcare access and utilization, and underlying, population-level health inequities.

Christopher M. Shea, PhD

Christopher M. Shea, PhD

RTRC Co-investigator

Dr. Shea is Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management in the Gillings School of Global Public Health and Adjunct Associate Professor of Social Medicine in the School of Medicine, Research Fellow at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, and Co-Lead for implementation science in the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. His research focuses on the implementation of telehealth and other innovations in health organizations.

Jean Talbot, PhD, MPH

Jean Talbot, PhD, MPH

RTRC Co-investigator

Dr. Talbot is a core member of the Maine Rural Health Research Center (MRHRC) rural behavioral health research team in the Muskie School of Public Health, University of Southern Maine. A clinical psychologist by training, she focused more than 10 years of practice on providing behavioral health interventions in inpatient facilities, community mental health agencies, university medical centers, and primary care. Since joining the MRHRC, she has been the principal investigator or lead author on a range of projects that have contributed to insights into behavioral health needs, treatment access, infrastructure gaps, and capacity building in rural areas.

Fred Ullrich

Fred Ullrich, BA

RTRC Co-investigator

Mr. Ullrich is a Program Director in the Department of Health Management and Policy, College of Public Health, University of Iowa. He has served as a research analyst, research methodologist, and project manager on a very broad array of health policy and bio-medical research projects ranging from local and national survey projects, cancer and surgical clinical trials, and regional and international epidemiologic studies. His recent work has focused on state, regional, and national projects in health services research, policy analysis, and program and policy evaluation.

Prijanka Vakkalanka

Priyanka Vakkalanka, PhD

RTRC Co-investigator

Dr. Vakkalanka is an Assistant Research Scientist with the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Iowa. She is trained as an epidemiologist and has over 10 years of experience with study design, data management, and quantitative data analysis. Her research areas of interest include opioid use disorder management, telehealth access, emergency psychiatric care, and Veterans’ health.