What is AHEC?

In spring 2017, Whatcom Community College (WCC) was named the site of the Area Health Education Center (AHECWW) for Western Washington. With dual funding from the University of Washington (UW) and the Washington state Department of Health (DOH), the AHEC for Western Washington will: (1) increase diversity and distribution among health professionals, (2) enhance health care quality, (3) and improve health care delivery to rural and underserved areas and populations.

Aligning our work with WWAMI, the Department of Health Rural Care Office, the National AHEC Organization and the National Rural Health Association, AHECWW seeks to improve core public health for rural and underserved urban communities.  

The federal AHEC program was developed by Congress in 1971 to recruit, train and retain a health professions workforce committed to underserved populations. The Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (WWAMI) AHEC Program Office of the UW School of Medicine has collaborated closely since the mid-1980s with its AHEC Centers in Eastern and Western Washington, Wyoming, and Idaho and its affiliated Program Offices in Alaska and Montana.


The Area Health Education Center for Western Washington works with the national AHEC movement to support healthcare delivery systems and access to care through activities that strengthen the healthcare workforce in rural and urban-underserved communities.


The Area Health Education Center for Western Washington is an innovative center, providing leadership engaged with diverse rural and urban-underserved communities to ensure access to quality healthcare and health workforce education.

  • Health, wellness, and education as the foundation for the vitality and sustainability of communities
  • Balanced mental and physical health, as well as social determinants of health, are important factors in promoting health and wellness
  • Creative and innovative community-centered programs and services
  • Stewardship of equity and the right of all people to access quality healthcare and education
  • Working with intention to make the greatest impact with the resources available
  • Accountability to the rural and urban-underserved communities to listen and serve their needs
  • Strength in diversity – healthcare and educational programs that are inclusive and empowering
  • Strength in partnerships to work towards common goals and use resources efficiently and effectively

In partnership with the University of Washington and Department of Health, objectives are accomplished through collaboration with communities, public health and healthcare agencies, education organizations, providers, and government decision-makers. The Area Health Education Center will improve rural and urban-underserved communities in western Washington by:

Improving Healthcare Education

  • Providing education and training to healthcare professionals focusing on whole person care (including physical, behavioral, environmental, and social determinants of health)
  • Identifying emerging trends in health care strategies and address training needs for healthcare providers
  • Leveraging resources and funds for training and workforce development
  • Collaborating with communities, healthcare professionals, educators, students, agencies, and organizations to improve the health and education of rural and urban-underserved populations

Improving Healthcare Workforce Distribution

  • Diversifying the healthcare workforce
  • Promoting innovation that supports the work of healthcare professions and reduces disparities in workforce distribution
  • Recruiting health care professionals for underserved populations and areas
  • Promoting health care professional retention activities

Improving Healthcare Access

  • Promoting the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals and communities
  • Coordination of physical and behavioral health with social services to improve health outcomes
  • Responding to regional needs to improve access to health care
  • Promoting state and federal policies that support for community needs
HRSA Core Topics

AHECWW aligns its work with the HRSA AHEC Scholars six Core Topics:

  • Interprofessional Education (also known as interdisciplinary training) which supports a coordinated, patient-centered model of health care that involves an understanding of the contributions of multiple health care professionals.
  • Behavioral Health Integration which promotes the development of integrated primary and behavioral health services to better address the needs of individuals with mental health and substances use conditions.
  • Social Determinants of Health includes five key areas (determinants) of economic stability, education, social and community context, health and health care, and neighborhood and built environment, and their impact on health.
  • Cultural Competency* which seeks to improve individual health and build health communities by training health care providers to recognize and address the unique culture, language and health literacy of diverse consumers and communities.
  • Practice Transformation which aims to fully support quality improvement and patient-centered are through goal-setting, leadership, practice facilitation, workflow changes, measuring outcomes, and adapting organizational tools and processes to support new team-based models of care delivery. AHEC programs are expected to develop and implement educational and training activities and build and strengthen strategic partnerships. Educational and training activities under practice transformation must target the specific skills and competencies needed to prepare students and practicing health professionals to effectively practice in a transforming health care system.
  • Current and emerging health issues such as Zika virus, opioid abuse, etc

*AHECWW prefers the term cultural humility, which acknowledges that mastery of a finite body of knowledge may not be appropriate. Instead, cultural humility invites us to practice the lifelong commitment to self-evaluation, redressing power imbalances, and developing mutually beneficial advocacy partnerships with communities. (Definition adapted from Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998)

AHECWW Staff and Advisory Board


Cori Garcia HansenCori Garcia Hansen, PI/Center Director, AHECWW

Cori Garcia Hansen, BA, BS, CMA. Cori has worked in rural communities, immigration law, agriculture, primary care, behavioral health, and has experience with grants in various allied health programs. She has a background in teaching and developing curriculum, and ten years of experience working in clinics and health centers. Cori also serves as an active volunteer in the Bellingham community. She brings ambition, collaborative spirit, and a dedicated work ethic to the AHECWW team.

Kate Di NittoKate Di Nitto, Associate Director, AHECWW

Kate Di Nitto, MFA. Kate has worked in behavioral health, higher education student services, and as a writer and writing teacher. She brings perspective from eight years working in community mental health as a service provider, and her volunteer work with youth. She is passionate about increasing access to career pathways and comprehensive healthcare. She is a certified Youth Mental Health First Aid trainer.

Ellen-BartonEllen Barton, Health Projects Coordinator

Ellen supports AHECWW’s work with the UW School of Medicine Rural Underserved Opportunities Program (RUOP) program. She assists with grant writing and, as a certified Mental Health First Aid trainer, conducts outreach to schedule and lead Mental Health First Aid trainings. She brings prior experience in community engagement and grant management for health-oriented transportation planning.

Deborah ElliottDeborah Elliott, AHECWW Health Professions Coordinator

Deborah coordinates AHECWW programs for health career pathways including the Health Professions Affinity Community (HPAC) project and other student health career “pipeline” development projects. She brings administrative skills and connections from her work at the Bellingham School District, Western Washington University, and University Christian Ministries. A recent graduate of Whatcom Community College, Deborah is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree at Western Washington University. She volunteers in global work with refugees and is a certified Community Health Worker.

Ellen-CarrollEllen Carroll, AmeriCorps Member, College Access Coordinator

Ellen coordinates and facilitates the Health Professions Affinity Community (HPAC) project, a service-learning curriculum designed to prepare and inspire students from diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in the healthcare field. At Western Washington University, Ellen earned degrees in Psychology and Sociology and served as a Resident Advisor, developing skills in working with students of different backgrounds.

Advisory Board
  • Chair: Jacqueline Barton True, Director of Rural Health Programs, Washington State Hospital Association 
  • Co-chair: Nathan Thomas, Workforce Program Manager, Northwest Regional Primary Care Association
  • Stacey Alles, Chief Operating Officer, Compass Health
  • Nora Coronado, Director of Community Partnership and Development, Center of Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (CEDI), University of Washington
  • Carlos Enciso Lopez, Medical student at University of Washington School of Medicine
  • Dan Ferguson, Director, Allied Health Center of Excellence
  • Sonia Handforth-Kome, Chief Financial Officer, Northwest Regional Primary Care Association
  • Tom Jensen, CEO, Grays Harbor Community Hospital Aberdeen/Grays Harbor County
  • Dr. John McCarthy, Family Physician; Assistant Dean for Rural Programs, University of Washington; WWAMI AHEC Associate Director
  • Stacey Morrison, WWAMI AHEC Associate Director
  • Mykenzie Puckering, RN student at University of Washington School of Nursing
  • Dr. Berdie Safford, Family Physician, Co-Founder, Vice President and Medical Director of Quality, Family Care Network 
  • Dr. Yong Ki Shin, Internist; Assistant Clinical Dean, University of Washington School of Medicine
  • Samuel Watson-Alvan, Primary Care Director, Office of Primary Care, Washington Department of Health
  • Carolyn Watson, Associate Dean for Health, Whatcom Community College (Ex-Officio)
  • Cori Garcia Hansen, Executive Director for AHECWW (Ex-Officio)
  • Kate Di Nitto, Associate Director for AHECWW (Ex-Officio)


Washington State Department of Health

AHECWW receives funding from the Washington State Department of Health, State Office of Rural Health.

The State Office of Rural Health (SORH) supports communities with the goal of improving access to healthcare for rural residents. The office is funded through an annual grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Through outreach and community partnerships, the SORH works to disseminate federal, state, and local resources, coordinate statewide rural health activities and provide direct assistance to communities.


AHECWW receives funding and support from the WWAMI Area Health Education Center Program. 

The WWAMI Area Health Education Center (AHEC) at the University of Washington works to improve the diversity, distribution, and quality of the health workforce in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. The AHEC program relies on partnerships with communities in the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (the “WWAMI” states) to promote health career pathways, create educational opportunities for students from junior high school all the way through professional and post-graduate training, and support health care providers in underserved populations.

The WWAMI AHEC continues its more than two decades of work as an integral part of the larger WWAMI program, a 30+ years old medical education program serving the five state region. Consistent with the overall aims of the Federal AHEC Program, the WWAMI AHEC supports activities that provide health workforce development and education away from large cities through partnerships with independent AHEC centers. By sharing resources with the WWAMI medical program, the WWAMI AHEC is well-positioned to help improve the quality and distribution of all health professionals into the mostly-rural region.

Whatcom Community College Foundation
AHECWW receives additional funding from the Whatcom Community College Foundation. The goal of the Whatcom Community College Foundation is to ensure access to higher education for students from all backgrounds, and to promote academic innovation and excellence on our campus.