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A focus on the most vulnerable:
Migrant & Border Health Advocacy, Education & Action

SEAHEC has historically focused on the most vulnerable: our rural and border communities, migrants and farmworkers. Through our initiatives, partnerships and programs, we reach out to and collaborate with communities, families and individuals. An effective way to do this is through the utilization and support of community health workers (CHWs).

Our most recent program initiatives have CHWs at the heart.

Our History:

The Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program was established by the U.S Congress in 1971 to address health workforce shortages and disparities. Since that time, it has grown to include approximately 250 AHEC centers strategically located in rural and underserved communities across the country.

Arizona’s first AHEC, the Southeast Arizona Health Education Center, SEAHEC, was established as a 501©3 in 1985 to “recruit, train and retain culturally competent health professionals in Cochise, Pima and Santa Cruz counties.”  Kevin Driesen was appointed by the State’s Rural Health Office to manage SEAHEC while recruiting a new Director, Michael Merrill then served from 1986 to 1987, followed by Cheri Hoen Shamel in 1988. Program Coordinator from 1986-1987, Karen Halverson was then selected to serve as director where she did so until 2007. Acting Director Suzanne David served in the interim until Gail Emrick was hired as Executive Director in 2008 and continues to serve in that capacity now.

With approval of state lottery funds from a special voter initiative, the Arizona Board of Regents designated funds to the University of Arizona AHEC program office which administers support to AHEC Centers and our pipeline programs.

Since that time, SEAHEC efforts have grown and our partnerships have allowed us to collaborate on a vast variety of health initiatives. 

After serving for more than 30 years as a State and federally funded regional AHEC,  SEAHEC has transitioned to a more focused mission and vision. In fall 2021, SEAHEC made the strategic decision to focus our efforts on the growing health concerns in our binational border region. While we are no longer part of the Arizona AHEC program, we are responding to emerging needs serving migrant and  border communities through advocacy, research and action. 


You will find ample opportunity to join us in service learning opportunities, advocacy campaigns, independent studies and more!

There is no better exercise for the heart than lifting people up.

Gail Emrick  • Executive Director

We Believe in Change


SEAHEC Values Passion, Innovation, Inclusivity, Respectful Accountability & Programs that are Community and Partner Driven.


We are passionate about our mission, our work and the people we serve.


Cultivating best-practices and quality service, we utilize innovative strategies to address the unique health challenges of our rural, tribal and border communities


Believing that diversity is a strength, we celebrate the unique qualities of our staff and board, our students and the communities we serve.


Maintaining financial and programmatic transparency and disseminating our results, we fulfill our commitments to our donors, partners and communities.


Practicing cultural humility and supporting the empowerment of others, we are community and partners driven.

SEAHEC Timeline

  • 1985- SEAHEC established as first AHEC Center in Arizona.

  • 1986- Michael Merrill first SEAHEC Director.

  • 1988- Karen Halverson appointed as SEAHEC Director serving the next 20 years as our mighty leader.

  • 1989- SEAHEC conducts Native American Training project, with community health representatives receiving a 40-hour course on teaching skills for tribal health promotion/disease prevention

  • 1990- SEAHEC receives its first federal Health Education Training Center (HECT) grant, which would extend until 2004. This workforce program focused on border states – Arizona, California, Texas, and New Mexico.

  • 1991- SEAHEC & Mariposa Community Health Center develop curriculum and train community health workers, to conduct home visits. MCHC’s Platicamos Salud Program launched.

  • 1992- SEAHEC offers continuing education programming “Elderx: Seniors & Substances”, focusing on elders and addressing alcoholism and prescription drug use. Dr. Andrew Weil was a guest presenter.

  • 1993- SEAHEC produces a photo-novela on warning signs of stroke, staring Eleazar Garcia and others.

  • 1994- SEAHEC conducts “Meds in a bag” events, taking pharmacists to senior centers allowing elderly to ask questions on medications, dosages, expiration dates, etc.

  • 1995- Through HECT program, SEAHEC collaborated with the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry project on effects of chemicals in environment, including lead prevention education.

  • 1996- Arizona’s voters approve Proposition 203, allotting a portion of annual State Lottery funds to AHEC Centers, among other efforts.

  • 1997- Arizona AHEC programs strengthen and expand with designated State funding from Prop 203.

  • 1999- Arizona AHECs participate in Statewide Tobacco funded programs including CHAMPS, developing curriculum, training, and evaluation to decrease tobacco use among Arizona residents.

  • 2000- SEAHEC & partners take the annual EMS on the Border conference to Rocky Point, providing binational training to first responders and promoting coordination between AZ & SN health systems.

  • 2001- The Douglas Diabetes Project launched through SEAHEC, a culturally and linguistically appropriate outreach effort, funded through Arizona Department of Health Services.

  • 2002- SEAHEC conducts STEPS, a school health index, in Nogales elementary schools.

  • 2003- Border Health SI Program was introduced.

  • 2004- SEAHEC creates a 3-hour CME program including use of CD’s, on Lupus and patient management.

  • 2005- SEAHEC receives Southern Arizona Border Health Careers Opportunities Program (HCOP) grant funding from UA.

  • 2005/8- Santa Cruz Community Foundation funds youth from Nogales/Rio Rico to attend health career camp at Cochise Community College.

  • 2007- SEAHEC and its local Nogales high school health career club are part of innovative binational research effort to produce and test biodiesel, with Rio Rico Fire District, University of AZ and ADEQ.

  • 2008- Gail Emrick hired as SEAHEC Executive Director.

  • 2009- SEAHEC coordinates with UA Health Science Colleges to implement VISTHA, “Visionary Interprofessional Student Training in Health”, in Nogales and the border region.

  • 2010- SEAHEC is awarded USDHHS HRSA Network Planning grant and launches “Arizona Border Communities Health Network” working on border community collaborative efforts.

  • 2011- Funded by USDHHS, Office of Women’s Health, SEAHEC provides CME training on “A Coordinated Public Health Initiative to address Domestic & Sexual Violence”. Partner AZ Coalition Against DV.

  • 2012- SEAHEC is awarded National Heart, Blood & Lung Institutes “Healthy Hearts” grant, working with tribal CHRs and Latino CHW groups around state to test culturally appropriate heart health curriculum.

  • 2013- SEAHEC organizes the Developmental Disabilities on the Border conference, with funding from Arizona Department of Developmental Disabilities.

  • 2014- SEAHEC Director Gail Emrick recognized as Border Health Employee of the Year award by the Secretary of Health, Sonora, Mexico.

  • 2015- SEAHEC awarded a USDHHS HRSA “Benefits Counseling & Enrollment” grant, “Casa Saludable”, with FQHC partners, increasing # of insured persons and utilization of health services in Southern Arizona.

  • 2016- SEAHEC and Tohono O’odham Community College provide the first ever college credit health professions summer camp for high school students interested in pursuing health careers.

  • 2017- SEAHEC awarded a Community Innovations grant from Legacy Foundation of Southern Arizona, constructing a community center in Winchester Heights Cochise County.

  • 2018- SEAHEC awarded Non-Profit of the Year by Arizona Community Foundation of Cochise.

  • 2019- SEAHEC wins Rural Health Program of the Year award from the Arizona Rural Health Association.

  • 2020- SEAHEC celebrates 35th years of success, strengthening the health workforce pipeline in rural, tribal and border communities of southern Arizona!

  • 2021 SEAHEC awarded the National AHEC Organization Center of Excellence for Community Programs

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