Who We Are

Nantahala Health Foundation is committed to collaborating with organizations to build capacity and address areas that significantly affect the health and well-being of all people in the community we serve.

Nantahala Health Foundation, a public 501(c)3 nonprofit, is a successor foundation charged with improving the health, wellness and overall quality of life for those living in the westernmost region of North Carolina, including Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon, and Swain counties, as well as the Qualla Boundary.  

Having evolved from the sale of Mission Health System to HCA, Nantahala Health Foundation is overseen by a Board of Directors reflecting the diversity of the six counties. This diversity is demonstrated in where they live, their expertise regarding the Social Determinants of Health, as well as by race and gender. 

Our Leadership

Lori Bailey, Executive Director

Lori Bailey has had more than 25 years of experience working to protect, equip, and empower our most vulnerable citizens.  A native of Western North Carolina, Lori holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of North Carolina, Asheville.  After receiving her BA degree, Lori worked for 12 years in various public and not-for-profit roles covering the Asheville and broader Western North Carolina Region in positions working to support individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities and mental illness, the aging and caregivers for those individuals.  This work included mobilization and empowerment of recipients of public mental health services to have a voice in state level system reform efforts.

Lori then relocated to the Upstate of South Carolina where she earned a Master’s in Public Administration and a Graduate Certificate in International Family and Community Studies from Clemson University. While completing her degree, she worked for Clemson University on the Strong Communities for Children initiative, a comprehensive effort to prevent child maltreatment by building systems of support for families of young children through grass-roots neighborhood and community mobilization. Since completing her degree, she has more than seven years of proven leadership and management success in executive and senior leadership positions in not-for-profit organizations serving children, youth and families in crisis, including those experiencing housing instability and homelessness, those experiencing food insecurity and other economic disadvantage and those involved with the child welfare system.

Lori, her husband, Doug, and their two sons are excited to be back in WNC with the Nantahala Health Foundation.  She believes the foundation is well-poised to mobilize our mountain communities to address the root issues impacting the health and well-being of the region she still considers home.

Lisa Duff, Advancement Officer

Lisa Duff joined Nantahala Health Foundation as our Advancement Officer in January 2020, bringing with her nearly 15 years of Business Administration, Marketing/Communications, and Nonprofit experience. Calling Jackson County home for nearly her entire life, Lisa attended Western Carolina University, where she earned a degree in English and Communications, which lead to a 12-year journalism career following college.

After her father was diagnosed with cancer, Lisa left journalism behind to work toward a cure as a fundraiser and community organizer throughout Western North Carolina with the American Cancer Society. It was during her time with ACS that she returned to school, this time earning an MBA at Walden University. When an East Tennessee nonprofit sent out a call for its first marketing and membership director, she answered by moving to Gatlinburg, TN, to support the work of the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Here she grew the nonprofit’s membership program and worked to grow the GSMA brand as a premier partner of the National Park Service.

With her acceptance of the Advancement Officer position at Nantahala Health Foundation, Lisa has return home to Western North Carolina, where she looks forward to working with community leaders to identify and remove barriers to health. When not spending time with her family and dogs, Lisa enjoys hiking, listening to educational podcasts and taking the road less traveled.

Our Board of Directors

Jane Kimsey, Chair

Jane Kimsey spent her career as the director of the Macon County Department of Social Services. After 33 years of service – 26 years as the director – she retired in 2015. During her tenure she served on numerous local, regional and state professional boards related to health and well-being.

After retirement, Jane continued to serve in leadership roles on the local hospital board and two low-income housing boards, resigning from these boards to serve on the NHF Board. Jane received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from N.C. Governor Pat McCrory in 2015 and received both the Outstanding DSS Director Award in 2011 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 from the N.C. Association of County Directors of Social Services.

Jane is a ninth-generation resident of the area that became Macon County in 1828. Her love of her mountain home community, her commitment to service and her desire to help people help themselves are the reasons she decided to serve as chair of the NHF Board.

Jane is a proud mother of a daughter and a son, and a very proud grandmother of two grandsons and a granddaughter.

David Garrett, Vice Chair

Born and raised in Georgia, David Garrett relocated to Jackson County in 2002 after falling in love with this region on as an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker.  David joined the Employment Security Commission (now NCWorks) in 2009, where he worked as an employment counselor before becoming the business service representative for the Southwestern Commission in 2014. In 2018 David was named the Southwestern Workforce Development Board director, supporting workforce initiatives and projects throughout our region.

David believes that the Nantahala Health Foundation can help Western North Carolina maximize the health potential of our community by reducing health disparities and access to quality healthcare and resources. “A healthy community translates to a healthy workforce, which, in turn, allows us to grow and prosper.”

David is an avid cyclist and loves traveling and exploring Western North Carolina.

Sonya Wachacha, Secretary

Originally from the Qualla Boundary, Sonja resides there today her husband and their 5 children. Sonya’s oldest son is in the U.S. Army, while her youngest attends the New Kituwah Academy, a Cherokee-language immersion school.

Sonya is a graduate of Montreat College in Black Mountain and earned her master of health sciences from Western Carolina University. She serves as the executive director of the Nursing Division at the Cherokee Indian Hospital.  Through Sonya’s extensive background as a registered nurse with a strong background in healthcare leadership and management, she has experienced the positive impact programs can have on young lives. Professionally, she has seen lives improved by targeted health programs.

Sonya believes that through serving on the Nantahala Health Foundation’s Board of Directors she can help bring programs to those who will benefit most.  “We all have family, friends, and community relationships that can benefit from strategic initiatives that improve living conditions, educational attainment, and overall health.  I’ve been able to overcome many challenging social determinants in my own life, and I want to see programs flourish as they help other families.”

Roger Plemens, Treasurer

After graduating from Western Carolina University, Roger went to work at Macon Savings and Loan Association (now Entegra Bank) in March of 1978 as a mortgage loan officer. The bank held $27 million in assets with one office when he started. Roger was promoted to manager of Mortgage Lending in 1981. He became the chief lending officer and vice president in 1984 and senior vice president in 1994. Roger was promoted to president/CEO in April 2004. Entegra Bank now has $1.6 billion in assets with 18 branches and two loan production offices.

Roger has been active in his community, previously serving on the board of Angel Medical Center, president of the Macon County Chamber of Commerce, president of the Franklin Daybreak Rotary, board member of Western Carolina University Foundation, board member of the North Carolina Bankers Association and currently serves on Macon County’s Economic Development Commission.

Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown came to the mountains from the eastern part of North Carolina. He was born and raised in Fayetteville, he attended college at Chowan in Murfreesboro, NC. Kelly began his career as a collegiate ministry intern at Western Carolina University and has since served as director of a church-based childcare program, coordinator for an Opioid Awareness Campaign, and currently serves as an activities coordinator at Haywood Lodge and Retirement Center in Waynesville, NC.

In addition to serving on the board of the Nantahala Health Foundation,  Kelly is involved in his community through the Jackson County Arts Council, Jackson County Safe Kids and Sylva Rotary Club. In the past he has served on the Downtown Sylva Main Street Association, HERE in Jackson County Board, Greening Up the Mountains Festival Planning Committee, Jackson County Schools Student Health Advisory Committee, and Community Table Board of Directors.

Kelly loves living in Western North Carolina and learning the rich stories of our region. In his free time, he can be found enjoying a cup of warm coffee, reading books, walking in the woods, and spending time with friends.

Alison Cochran

Raised in Bryson City, N.C. Alison graduated from UNC-Asheville with a bachelor of science in earth science and earned a master of health science from Western Carolina University. She began her career with the Swain County Health Department in 2005 as an environmental health Program Specialist.  In 2013 she was appointed interim director at Swain County Health Department, and in 2015 was named director.

As a representative of Swain County and health directors across Western North Carolina, Alison feels she has a better understanding of the challenges our communities face with social determinants and how we can invest in our counties’ future.

Alison and her husband, Cabbott, are parents to son  Landon. She and her family enjoy camping, going to the lake and, of course, playing baseball!

Angie Knight

A native of North Carolina, Angie grew up in Lenoir and moved to Robbinsville in 1983.  A graduate of Robbinsville High School, she earned her BSED, MAED – Special Education and EdS – in Educational Leadership degrees from Western Carolina University. With an education career spanning more than 30 years, Angie serves as the superintendent of Graham County Schools.

“Having spent my entire career in education, I have learned that all community issues are interconnected, including community health and wellness,” she said. “I look forward to actively participating with the other NHF board members to make decisions that benefit all our communities.”

Angie is married to Jeff Knight, school resource officer at Graham County Schools. They have two children.

Lisa Leatherman

A native of Franklin, N.C., Lisa holds a bachelor of arts degree in biology from Elon College. She has been an employee of Duke Energy for more than 30 years, having worked in various customer-facing roles, including lake services, hydro relicensing, hydro operations, engineering, and vegetation management.

A member of the Rotary Club of Sylva, she serves on boards for the Southwestern Community College Foundation, Mainspring Conservation Trust, Macon County Department of Social Services, Macon County Community Foundation, Macon County Recreation Commission, Smoky Mountain Host and Western Carolina University’s College of Engineering and Technology Dean’s Advisory Board.

She has also served on the board for Macon County Habitat for Humanity, Macon County CareNet, Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce and WCU’s Academic Community Engagement Board.

“It is an honor to serve as a founding member of the Nantahala Health Foundation,” she said. “The opportunity to partner with nonprofits, agencies, local governments, and community leaders in the six westernmost counties in Western North Carolina to influence the health and well-being of fellow citizens is humbling and motivating.”

Debbie Mauney

Debbie Mauney began her career with the Clay County Department of Social Services in 1990 and has served as its director since 1997. She was appointed by the Clay County Board of Commissioners as the Clay County Health and Human Services director in 2018 when the county consolidated Health and Human Services. This position includes the supervision of Health, Social Services, and Senior Services. Over the years, she has served on many local and regional nonprofit boards, including being active in the startup of many of these organizations.

Debbie’s passion over the years has been to develop in-house resources (DSS) and to work with the community to develop resources that did not exist when needed. Debbie says she is excited for the opportunity to serve on the Nantahala Health Foundation board and believes that her experience working with families will help in developing a plan to address the social determinants of health in this region. Her career has afforded her the opportunity to witness how each of us can make a difference when given the chance to make our community a better place to live.

Debbie is married to Alan Mauney, and they reside in Brasstown, N.C.  They are proud parents of daughter Allie.

Tom O'Brien

Tom O’Brien, who joined the Nantahala Health Foundation board in February 2020, is president and CEO of Industrial Opportunities, Inc., in Murphy. IOI serves individuals with disabilities from Cherokee, Clay, and Graham counties. As CEO, Tom manages IOI’s total operation, including operating a manufacturing business to provide work and appropriate conditions to prepare clients with disabilities, disadvantages or displaced workers for employment or vocational placement.

Tom has been with IOI since 1974 and in the role of president since 1980. He holds a BS/BA in sociology and has extensive knowledge and experience in developing budgets and management. He has served as chairman of Cherokee County’s Economic Development Board since 1999. Additionally, he has served on the Murphy Medical Center board since 1986.

Tom brings to the NHF board extensive experience in areas beneficial to the organization’s success, including co-designing innovative regional initiatives to address community concerns.