Our Researchers

UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC research scientists and staff are clinical and public health research experts with a passion for interdisciplinary community-based research and inquiry.

Kathy Foley, PhD      
Director, Department of Research
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Adjunct Faculty, UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy
Kathy.Foley@mahec.net, 828.257.4449

Kathy joined the UNC Health Sciences Department of Research in September 2016, bringing with her 25 years of health research experience in the areas of clinical trials, economic modeling, retrospective claims data analyses, and survey development. She is responsible for setting the strategic direction for the organization’s research, evaluation, grants, and library and knowledge services in collaboration with organizational leadership and partners in the communities of Western North Carolina.

Kathy's research interests include methodology, data infrastructure and patient engagement. She received her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania where she focused on demography and medical sociology.

Jill Fromewick, MS, ScD
Research Scientist
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Adjunct Faculty, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
Jill.Fromewick@mahec.net, 828-257-4755

Jill is a social epidemiologist, policy and program evaluator with two decades of public health research and evaluation experience. Guided by a background in both research methods and community outreach, she enjoys collaborating with others to collect, analyze, synthesize, and share findings in ways that facilitate their use for decision making and to strengthen program impact. 

Jill has called Asheville home for over 15 years and never gets tired of exploring the region’s biking, music, and food. Her research interests include social determinants of health and health behavior, children’s health, and racial equity. She received her doctor of science degree at Harvard School of Public Health.

Bayla Ostrach, MA, PhD
Research Scientist
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Assistant Professor, Family Medicine, and Affiliated Faculty, Medical Anthropology, Boston University School of Medicine
Visiting Research Scholar-in-Residence, Sociology and Anthropology, University of North Carolina Asheville
Bayla.Ostrach@mahec.net, 828.257.4759

Bayla conducts regional community-based research related to population and public health as it informs medical education and workforce preparedness needs, Hepatitis C and HIV risk factors, the role of harm reduction in reducing infectious disease risks, and barriers and facilitators in substance use disorders and treatment. They have led research on perinatal opioid use disorder treatment experiences.

Bayla's background and interest is in research that informs policy especially in relation to Medicaid coverage for reproductive and other care for vulnerable populations. An applied medical anthropologist by training with a clinical background in reproductive health, their research focus is on structural inequality as it affects access to care, health disparities, syndemics, publicly funded health systems, stigma, and social support. In addition to domestic research, Bayla conducts international fieldwork with research partners and colleagues in Catalunya, where they conducted their doctoral work. Bayla received their doctorate at the University of Connecticut and is the author of several books and edited volumes. They have authored and co-authored numerous peer-reviewed articles.

Casey Tak, PhD, MPH
Research Scientist
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Assistant Professor, UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy
Casey.Tak@mahec.net, 828-407-2587

Casey is a health economist and assistant professor in the Division of Pharmaceutical Outcomes and Policy at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. His research focuses on women's health, pharmaceutical use in pregnancy, and access to contraception, particularly among rural populations. He is also interested in the integration of pharmacists in clinical teams and the resulting patient and economic outcomes.  

Casey received his undergraduate degree in Spanish, with minors in Chemistry and Italian, from the University of Utah. He then received a master of public health degree in 2014 from Westminster College and a doctorate in pharmacotherapy outcomes research and health policy from the University of Utah.

Kathleen Thomas, PhD, MPH
Research Scientist
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Associate Professor, UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy
Senior Research Fellow, UNC Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research
Adjunct Professor, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
Kathleen_Thomas@unc.edu, 828-348-3629

Kathleen is a behavioral economist whose research seeks to enrich the knowledge base for ways to improve access to care for underserved populations with mental health needs, ranging from minority populations to disability policy and childhood autism.

She is deeply engaged in understanding how people live – what motivates them to be transactional around the most important things in their lives – family, health, and well-being. Her work has been funded by a variety of federal, state, and foundation sources.

Kathleen is recipient of the John Eisenberg Excellence in Mentorship Award from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Steven M. Banks Award for mentorship im mental health services research from the American Public Health Association. Her undergraduate degree is in classical languages from Pomona College. She holds an MPH from Yale University and a PhD in health economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Brunilda Lugo, MS, PhD
Research Project Manager
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Brunilda.Lugo@mahec.net, 828-348-3622

Brunilda is native of Puerto Rico and moved with her husband to the continental United States in 1993. After living in several states, including Idaho, Montana, Washington and Massachusetts, they finally settled in Asheville, North Carolina. Brunilda taught microbiology at AB-Tech for almost 8 years, raised her son, and finished her doctoral degree in public health. She is passionate about infectious diseases and environmental health, both of which she focused on in her dissertation.

As a consultant, Brunilda produced ZikaZoneUSA, cloud-based weekly maps that showed where conditions were prime for Zika outbreaks. Currently, she is focused on Hepatitis C and other infectious diseases. In her free time, she loves to dance and share Hispanic culture with the wider community as a volunteer. She is a member of the Parents National Council at UNC Asheville and is a board member of Mountain True. 

Chase Harless, MSW
Research Project Associate
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Chase.Harless@mahec.net, 828-407-2112

Chase provides overall support to the UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC research staff based on project needs and has a focus on qualitative methods. Along with a history of community organizing, Chase has experience with field research through designing program evaluations with various advocacy groups across the South and conducting survey research to better understand how to support marginalized communities.

Chase’s research interests include reducing disparities in LGBTQ healthcare, improving access to mental healthcare in rural settings, and increasing understanding of the lived experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals living in the South. He received his master of social work from Western Carolina University in 2018. When not in the office, Chase enjoys playing board games and listening to records with his three cats.
 

Phillip Hughes, MS
Research Project Associate
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Phillip.Hughes@mahec.net, 828-407-2107

Phillip provides support to various research activities at MAHEC based on project needs including data management and quantitative analysis. He has experience working with complex modeling techniques to assess underlying causal relationships. Phillip’s research interests include the psychosocial development of at-risk populations, disparities in healthcare access and outcomes, evidence-based policy, and statistical analysis.

When not at work, Phillip enjoys spending time with his wife and dog, eating at local restaurants, collecting antique books, and watching movies.

Lance Goller, MPA
Grant Writer and Research Administrator
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Lance.Goller@mahec.net, 828-771-4221   

Lance provides grant writing, grant management, and research administration support to teams throughout MAHEC. He joins UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC after more than 15 years of social justice work with underserved populations. Lance has directed health insurance access projects in several states, managed a residential facility for children receiving treatment at the National Institutes of Health, implemented a housing-focused tobacco control program in California, and developed online training for a nationally recognized teen pregnancy prevention program. 

Lance holds a bachelor’s degree from the City University of New York and a Master’s in Public Administration from Baruch College in New York. He speaks Spanish fluently, is conversational in American Sign Language, and can be found on hiking trails across WNC in his spare time.