The National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services recognizes the contributions and example of James Bernstein for his efforts to improve health care in rural communities during the past 35 years until his death June 12t, 2005. The Committee understands the irony of this Resolution as Jim was notable in not needing or seeking such recognition; this Resolution reflects the Committee's profound respect and appreciation.
Although he spent the past 31 years working in North Carolina, Jim's influence has been felt across the country. The programs he set up in North Carolina have become national models. Throughout his life, Jim remained an innovator and a motivator, helping local leaders and communities to come together to find local-based solutions to their health care problems. Rare is the leader who so many would claim as mentor and friend. These were skills Jim began to acquire during his time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco and upon which he built the country's first-ever State Office of Rural Health in North Carolina in 1973. Over the next three decades, Jim helped to establish a network of 81 community-based clinics across North Carolina, championed the use of nurse practitioners and physician assistants in underserved communities, developed programs to help people who were poor obtain prescription drugs and recruited physicians, dentists and nurses to rural communities. In recent years, he had been instrumental in developing Medicaid managed care programs that focused on care management and health promotion.
Jim's expertise extended far beyond North Carolina. In 1986, he was part of a workgroup that helped create the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy and also served as a member of this Committee in the early 1990s. Jim also assisted the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on two key rural projects, Practice Sights: State Primary Care Development Strategies and the Southern Rural Access Program. Jim served as a commissioner on the Prospective Payment Assessment Commission (PROPAC, the predecessor to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission) to ensure that rural considerations are taken into account in Medicare policy making. During his career he also served as president of the National Rural Health Association.
In all these activities, Jim was a leader and in so doing he served as an example to others in how to address rural health care challenges that often seemed intractable. While we note Jim's passing with sadness, we also recognize that he serves as a role model that shows what can be done through hard work, innovative thinking and collaborative partnerships. The Committee believes that while much has been accomplished since Jim began his work in rural health and human services, many obstacles remain and new challenges have emerged.
The Committee believes that the best way to honor Jim would be to consciously work to help develop the next generation of rural health leaders. Jim was a master of creating change by working within the existing policy framework and helping others to build sustainable programs that addressed long-standing problems. The Department could and should play a lead role by developing a program that identifies emerging leaders from and for rural communities and provides them with the training and resources to play a lead role in ensuring access to quality health care access in their States and communities. This program would warrant long term support by the Department and it should focus on rural needs within the larger policy context that affects us all. The Committee urges the Secretary to take the lead on this initiative which will serve as a reminder for all of Jim Bernstein's fine work.