A focus on the most vulnerable: Migrant & Border Health Advocacy, Research & 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.



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



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.


Health issues transcend geographic boundaries. We collaborate across borders to improve health outcomes and access to needed services in the underserved in the Arizona Sonora region.


Vaccine education within rural and underserved communities and vulnerable groups is a key SEAHEC priority.


We host service learning opportunities focusing on health equity in rural, border, and indigenous communities.


As long as health disparities exists, none of us can truly rest. It doesn’t take much to change a life. Get involved now!



  • 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 cur