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.

Jacqueline Halladay, MD, MPH
Chair, Department of Research
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Faculty, Department of Family Medicine, UNC School of Medicine
Research Fellow, UNC Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research
Jacquie.Halladay@mahec.net, 828-257-4449

Jacquie leads the development and implementation of research strategy and vision for UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC, developing teams of researchers that span Chapel Hill and Asheville while also engaging MAHEC’s many community partners. She is a professor in the Department of Family Medicine at UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill and a research fellow at the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. She also serves as co-director of the North Carolina Network Consortium, a statewide practice-based research network. 

Jacquie's research interests focus on enhancing care delivery for patients with chronic conditions, which complements the population health research that is a priority at UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC.

Sheri Denslow, PhD, MPH
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Adjunct Faculty, UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy
Sheri.Denslow@mahec.net, 828-348-3642

As an epidemiologist/statistician at UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC, Sheri joins with physicians, pharmacists, community health leaders, and research scientists to formulate study questions, develop study designs, analyze data, and share results. Her research interests include quantitative methodology, treatment outcomes research, public health research, and racial and socioeconomic disparities in health.

Sheri received her doctorate from North Carolina State University and her master of public health degree from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

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.

Brunilda Lugo, MS, PhD
Associate Research Scientist
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. 

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.

Lorinda Baker, BA
Inpatient Research Project Manager
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Lorinda.Baker@mahec.net, 828-257-4744

As an Inpatient Research Project Manager, Lorinda provides a point of contact for MAHEC residents working at Mission Hospital, particularly in the Department of Surgery. She connects residents and Mission faculty with UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC personnel to assist in developing, executing, presenting, and publishing research projects. Lorinda is located full time at Mission Hospital. She ensures that researchers at Mission have easy access to the resources at UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC.

Lorinda earned her bachelor’s in biology at University of California, Santa Cruz. She began as a technician in neuroscience laboratories, exploring drugs of abuse with animal models. This evolved into lab and project management. She began work in research administration at the University of Chicago, supporting the animal research ethics and biosafety committees. Lorinda grew up in California, then became a Chicagoan, before moving to Chapel Hill then Asheville. She enjoys volunteering on the weekends at the Western North Carolina Nature Center, reading science fiction, and finding free live music outdoors.

Chase Harless, MSW
Research Data Analyst
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 Data Analyst
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.

Sedona Koenders, MS
Research Project Coordinator
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Sedona.Koenders@mahec.net, 828-398-5921

Sedona is an applied medical anthropologist with a background researching chronic pain management, veterans’ health, and substance use, particularly opioid use disorder (OUD). As a Research Project Coordinator at MAHEC, she provides project management and support to those working in research, and contributes expertise in substance use disorders, and qualitative and mixed methods research. Her previous work has focused on implementing state-wide public health initiatives to provide access to medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) for uninsured and underserved populations, as well as training and technical assistance for healthcare providers and clinical staff who treat people with OUD. Sedona received her undergraduate degree in Microbiology and Cell Science from the University of Florida. She then received her master’s degree in Medical Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Practice from the Boston University School of Medicine.

Sedona’s research interests include healthcare and pharmaceutical policy, harm reduction, substance use disorders, opioids, chronic pain management, health equity and justice, syndemics, homelessness, and veteran health.

Rossana Roberts, MSW, MPH
Research Project Coordinator
UNC Health Sciences at MAHEC
Rossana.Roberts@mahec.net, 919-628-9904

Rossana provides research support based on project needs including project and data management. Rossana received her Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health in 2020 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she concentrated in maternal, child and family health. Her area of work has focused on program evaluation and public health research with topics related to racial equity, health education, and perinatal healthcare. Some of her research interests include promoting access to care and understanding and eliminating health disparities among marginalized communities.

When not at work Rossana, enjoys walking her dog, reading and exploring local food and music.