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Health Equity Advisory Board

External Advisory Committee

Aetna’s Health Equity Advisory Board focuses on enabling members of certain racial and ethnic backgrounds to access culturally appropriate care. This group has vast experience to evaluate Aetna’s racial and ethnic data.

The committee’s experience also provides insight for assisting Aetna in identifying new initiatives focused on targeted results for specific populations.

Patricia Baker, MS

President & CEO, Connecticut Health Foundation

Patricia Baker is the founding leader of the Connecticut Health Foundation, having guided the organization since its creation in 1999. Under her leadership, the foundation has become the state’s largest independent health philanthropy and has used a combination of grant making, policy work, and research to improve the health status of Connecticut residents.

Patricia came to the foundation with two decades of experience as a visionary, pragmatic leader in health care policymaking, service provision, advocacy, and community engagement. She served as the national program director for the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, director of Connecticut government programs at Oxford Health Plans, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Connecticut, and associate executive director of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

Patricia is a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Roundtable on the Promotion of Health Equity; a member of the board of directors of Grantmakers in Health; vice chair of the governor’s Health Care Cabinet; chair of the State Health Improvement Plan advisory council; and serves on several other advisory committees.

She has a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in urban and regional planning.

Joseph R. Betancourt, M.D., M.P.H.

Joseph R. Betancourt, MD, MPH

Founder & Director, Disparities Solutions Center (DSC)

Joseph Betancourt is the founder and director of the Disparities Solutions Center (DSC), Senior Scientist at the Mongan Institute for Health Policy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a practicing Internal Medicine physician. He is also the founder and leader of Quality Interactions, an industry-leading company that focuses on training in cross-cultural communication for health care professionals.

Dr. Betancourt is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in health care disparities and cross-cultural medicine, and has served on several Institute of Medicine Committees on this topic, including the one that produced the landmark report, Unequal Treatment. Dr. Betancourt has secured grants and contracts that have led to over 50 peer-reviewed publications, and advises private industry, government, and not-for-profit health systems on approaches to eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health care. He sits on the Board of Trinity Health, a large national health system; and sat on the Boston Board of Health and Board of Neighborhood Health Plan in Boston. He is a 2015 Aspen Institute Health Innovator Fellow.

Dr. Betancourt received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Maryland, his medical degree from Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School, and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. Following residency, he completed The Commonwealth Fund-Harvard University Fellowship in Minority Health Policy, and received his Master’s in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Anthony Chen

Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH

Director of Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department

Anthony Chen is a family physician and Director of Health of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. He has strong interests in community health planning and program development, quality and systems improvement, health systems transformation, and health equity.

He grew up in Southeast Asia and the Pacific before attending boarding school in New Hampshire and the University of Michigan. After medical school at Duke University, he completed Family Medicine residency at the University of Cincinnati followed by a Faculty Development Fellowship at Duke University. After three years in the Chicago area, Dr. Chen moved to Seattle where he practiced comprehensive family medicine for 12 years in public health and community clinic settings while participating in family medicine education in various capacities. He also held leadership roles in local and national efforts on hepatitis B immunization and liver cancer prevention in Asians and other community issues.

In 2005, he moved to Boston to complete the Commonwealth Fund/Harvard University Fellowship in Minority Health Policy and obtain a Masters of Public Health at Harvard School of Public Health. From 2006 to 2008, he worked in clinical care, administration, and community programs at a large public health care system while teaching at the Tufts University Family Medicine Residency Program and Harvard Medical School.

In October 2008, Dr. Chen returned to the Puget Sound area as the Director of Health of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. He serves on several state and national public health committees; regional planning bodies; and local, state, and congressional district committees on health and health systems transformation. He remains engaged in research through the Washington Public Health Practice-Based Research Network and the Washington Workplace Health Research Network. His community service includes participation in Rotary Club of Tacoma No. 8 and the board of Goodwill of the Rainier Region and Cultural Exploration of Greater China Foundation.

Jorge A. Girotti

Lisa Cooper, MD, MPH

Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor

Lisa Cooper is the James F. Fries Professor of Medicine, and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in Health Equity at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health. A board-certified internist and social epidemiologist, Dr. Cooper’s research documented disparities in the quality of relationships between physicians and patients from socially at-risk groups. She then designed innovative interventions targeting physicians’ communication skills, patients’ self-management skills, and healthcare organizations’ ability to address needs of underserved populations.

Dr. Cooper directs the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity, where she and her team work with health system and community stakeholders to implement rigorous clinical trials, identifying interventions that alleviate disparities in healthcare and outcomes.

She has served on the several advisory groups, including the Underserved Advisory Committee, American Board of Internal Medicine; Board of Trustees, U.S. Pharmacopeia; Expert Panel for Cultural Competency Implementation Strategies and Measures, National Quality Forum; Board, American Heart Association Mid-Atlantic Affiliate; Maryland Health Quality and Costs Council; Advisory Committee to the Director of the NIH; Disparities Standing Committee, National Quality Forum; and The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Committee on Integrating Social Needs Care into the Delivery of Health Care. She has received several honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship, elected membership in the National Academy of Medicine, the Association of American Medical Colleges Herbert W. Nickens Award for outstanding contributions to promoting healthcare equity and social justice in medical education, and the American Public Health Association’s Helen Rodriguez-Trìas Social Justice Award.

Dr. Cooper received her B.A. in Chemistry from Emory University, her M.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her M.P.H. from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She completed her internal medicine residency at the University of Maryland Medical Center and a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins.

Linda D. Green

Marie Cleary-Fishman, MBA, MSN, CHCQM

Vice- President of Clinical Quality for the Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET)

Marie Cleary-Fishman currently holds the position of Vice President, Clinical Quality for the Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET) an affiliate of the American Hospital Association (AHA). She has been with HRET since March of 2014 and currently manages the High Reliability Practice area including the Hospital Innovation and Improvement Network (HIIN), the Hospital Acquired Infection (HAI) work and a diverse portfolio of federally and privately funded projects. Marie has provided leadership in the Population Health Practice area as well as in the following projects; Adapting and Implementing Patient Safety Practices in Ambulatory Care (AHRQ),Hospital Based research to Build a Culture of Health (RWJF), Patient Engagement in the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA - PCORI), HUDDLE for Care (The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation), the Strategic Innovation Engine (IMPAQ), Project ACHIEVE (University of Kentucky and has contributed in her role as team member to Conflict and Optimal Resolution (CANDOR - AHRQ), HEN 2.0 (CMS) in addition to several data oriented projects.

Previously with the Illinois Hospital Association (IHA) since 2010 as Vice President of Performance Improvement, Marie’s position included responsibility for leading the state/national collaborative focused on decreasing Central Line Blood Stream Infections (CLABSI) and Catheter Related Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTI). Additionally, Marie led the Hospital Engagement Network (HEN) a partnership with HRET focused on reducing hospital acquired conditions by forty percent and readmissions by twenty percent. Finally, Marie jointly led the Midwest Alliance for Patient Safety, a joint venture Patient Safety Organization (PSO).

Her background includes positions as a staff nurse, Nursing Education Instructor, Director of Quality Improvement Resources, Director of Medical Practice Development and Senior Vice President for Ambulatory and Home Health Services. Immediately prior to leaving Resurrection Health Care, Ms. Cleary-Fishman served as the Senior Vice President for Performance Distinction. That responsibility included corporate-wide Performance Improvement, Patient Safety, and Case Management activities for five acute care facilities, a long-term acute care facility, a variety of nursing homes, retirement centers, ambulatory and home care services, and various ambulatory functions.

Carol R. Horowitz

Thomas Fisher, MD, MPH

Emergency Medicine Physician, The University of Chicago Medical Center

Thomas Fisher is a board-certified emergency medicine physician and experienced health insurance executive. Dr. Fisher has decades of experience in health care leadership and a diversity of experiences that motivate him to create a more just and efficient health care system. He is past president of NextLevel Health, a Medicaid managed care health plan where he integrated clinical operations, financial planning, network management, regulatory adherence, and community relations to deliver health outcomes for Cook County’s Medicaid population.

Under his leadership, NextLevel built a broad network, passed 6 regulatory reviews, hired 140 people and grew membership from 16k to 80k. In addition, Tom is a board certified emergency medicine physician and cares for the south side community where he was raised as an attending physician at The University of Chicago Medical Center. Previously he served as Vice President of Health delivery Transformation at Health Care Seri e Corporation There he led Affordable Care Act preparation for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, Texas , Oklahoma, New Mexico and Montana.

Dr. Fisher also served as a 2010-2011 White House Fellow at the United States Department of Health and Human Services. He worked as the special assistant to Kathleen Sebelius, edited ACA regulations, and led the development of the HHS Action Plan for reducing racial and ethnic health disparities.

Elizabeth A. Jacobs

J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MPH

Executive Vice-President, Trust for America’s Health (TFAH)

J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MPH is Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public health policy, research, and advocacy organization that promotes optimal health for every person and community and makes the prevention of illness and injury a national priority. Dr. Gracia works in partnership with the president and CEO to develop and implement strategic policy priorities, and manages TFAH’s core business functions and internal operations. She has extensive leadership and management experience in federal government, professional associations, academia, and clinical practice.

Prior to joining TFAH, Dr. Gracia served in the Obama Administration as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In that capacity, she directed departmental policies and programs to end health disparities and advance health equity. She provided executive leadership on administration priorities including the Affordable Care Act and My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative to address persistent opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color and to ensure all youth can reach their full potential. She also led the federal Office of Minority Health, where she oversaw a budget of $57 million and pioneered innovative, multisectoral partnerships in the public and private sectors.

Previously, she served as Chief Medical Officer in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, where her portfolio included adolescent health, emergency and disaster preparedness, environmental health and climate change, and global health. Prior to that role, she was appointed as a White House Fellow at HHS and worked in the Office of the First Lady on the development of the Let’s Move! initiative to solve childhood obesity.

Martha A. Medrano

Gary Gunderson, MDiv, DDiv

Professor of Health Wake Forest University School of Divinity
Vice-President, FaithHealth at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

Gary Gunderson, Professor of the Health of the Public in the Wake Forest University School of Divinity and Professor of Public Health Science in School of Medicine. He serves as Vice President for FaithHealth at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center which includes spiritual care, Clinical Pastoral Education and counseling centers in 37 locations across NC as well as guiding community health strategy for the 19-county service area. He is known for more than two decades of creative work in the field of faith and public health. The FaithHealth Division is developing partnerships with hundreds of congregations through FaithHealthNC adapting this broad body of experience into this very different social and faith environment.

Gary has also authored five books. He has been an advisor to the World Council of Churches for Mental Health, to the Adventist Loma Linda University Institute for Health Policy, and is a member of the National Academies of Science Roundtable on Population Health. He is secretary of Stakeholder Health, a learning group of more than 40 healthcare systems convened in collaboration with the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services exploring how faith-based organizations can more powerfully fulfill their founding mission to the poor.

Gary is an ordained American Baptist minister with degrees from Candler School of Theology at Emory University and Doctor of Ministry at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta as well as an honorary doctorate from the Chicago Theological Seminary. He blogs regularly at 

Thomas Sequist

James E.K. Hildreth, PhD, MD

President & CEO, Meharry Medical College

James E.K. Hildreth is the 12th president and chief executive officer of Meharry Medical College, the nation’s largest private, independent historically black academic health sciences center. A native of Camden, Arkansas, Dr. Hildreth began his undergraduate studies in 1975 at Harvard University and was selected as the first African-American Rhodes Scholar from Arkansas in 1978. He graduated from Harvard magna cum laude in chemistry in 1979. Dr. Hildreth enrolled at Oxford University in England, graduating with a Ph.D. in immunology in 1982.

He attended Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, taking a one-year leave of absence from medical school for a postdoctoral fellowship in pharmacology from 1983 to 1984. In 1987, he obtained his M.D. from Johns Hopkins and joined the Hopkins faculty as assistant professor.

In 2002, Dr. Hildreth became the first African American in the 125-year history of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to earn full professorship with tenure in the basic sciences. In October 2008, he was honored for his contributions to medical science by election to the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious biomedical and health policy advisory group in the U.S. In August of 2011, Dr. Hildreth became dean of the College of Biological Sciences at University of California, Davis. He was the first African-American dean in the university, which was founded in 1905. He was also appointed as a tenured professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology as well as professor in the Department of Internal Medicine in the UC Davis School of Medicine.

James Walton

Gary A. Puckrein, PhD

President & CEO, National Minority Quality Forum (NMQF)

Gary A. Puckrein is President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Minority Quality Forum. Dr. Puckrein also serves as Executive Director of the Alliance of Minority Medical Associations—a collaborative effort of the Asian and Pacific Physicians’ Association, the Association of American Indian Physicians, and the National Medical Association. In 1998 he founded the Forum’s predecessor program (the National Minority Health Month Foundation) to help communities and policy makers eliminate the disproportionate burden of premature death and preventable illness in special populations through the use of evidence-based, data-driven initiatives.

Dr. Puckrein has built the Forum’s capacity to house vital statistics and other information—including demographic, environmental, claims, prescription, laboratory, hospital, and clinic data—in a centralized data warehouse. He has also led the development of the Forum’s health indexes and atlases to measure and forecast health status in small geographic areas, evaluate the impact of specific interventions, monitor changes in health outcomes, and provide information and analysis regarding the health of ethnic and racial minorities. Dr. Puckrein published two successful magazines: American Visions and Minority Health Today.

Dr. Puckrein was awarded his doctorate from Brown University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa.

John Ruffin, P.hD.

President & CEO, Consultart Inc.

Dr. John Ruffin, President and CEO of Consultart. Prior to his retirement from federal service he was the founding director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). In this capacity, he oversaw the NIMHD budget of approximately $276 million, and provided leadership for the NIH minority health and health disparities research activities which constituted an annual budget of approximately $2.8 billion.

He is a well-respected leader and visionary in the field of minority health and health disparities. As an academician and a scientist, he has devoted his professional career to improving the health status of racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations. He has an impressive track record of developing and supporting programs to increase the cadre of minority scientists, physicians, and other health professionals, as well as attract a diverse group of researchers to the health disparities field.

The hallmark of his career has been his success in institutionalizing minority health and health disparities research within the organizational structure of the NIH. Ultimately, this resulted in the creation of a health disparities research enterprise with global reach. His leadership consequently transformed the national discourse around minority health and health disparities, resulting in health disparities research becoming a recognized scientific discipline. With congressional support he guided the transition of the OMP to become the Office of Research on Minority Health (ORMH) in 1993, a legislatively-created entity that placed emphasis on research to address minority health.

He has been recognized by various professional, non-profit, and advocacy organizations. He has also received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Award for National Service, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Special Recognition Award; and the U.S. Presidential Merit Award.

Pernessa C. Seele, PhD

Founder & CEO, The Balm In Gilead, Inc.

Pernessa C. Seele is the founder and CEO of The Balm In Gilead, Inc., a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) whose Dr. Pernessa Seele is Founder and CEO of The Balm In Gilead, Inc., a not-for- profit organization, celebrating 30 years of providing technical support that strengthens the capacity to faith institutions in the USA and in Africa to promote health education and services that contribute to the elimination of health disparities.

As a pioneer in developing public health & faith based models for engaging individuals in health promotion and disease prevention interventions, Time Magazine 100 named her One of the Most Influential Persons in the World in 2006; Essence Magazine, in its 35 Anniversary issue, named Dr. Seele one of the 35 Most Beautiful and Remarkable Women In The World; In May 2010, Dr. Seele was selected as 21 Leaders of the 21st Century of Women E-News in New York City. Clark Atlanta University honored Dr. Seele with the 2008 Pathway of Excellence Award, citing her as one of its most outstanding graduates of all time. In October 2017, His Eminence, Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, bestowed the Pierre Toussaint Medallion upon Dr. Seele.

Dr. Seele is the author of Stand Up to Stigma! How to Reject Fear & Shame. She is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She received a Bachelor of Science degree and Master of Science from Clark Atlanta University in 1976 & 1979 respectively, and a Doctorate of Human Letters from the College of New Rochelle, NY in 2007. She is a native of Lincolnville, SC. 

Brian D. Smedley, PhD

Co-Founder & Executive Director, National Collaborative for Health Equity

Brian D. Smedley is co-founder and Executive Director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity (, a project that connects research, policy analysis, and communications with on-the-ground activism to advance health equity. In this role, Dr. Smedley oversees several initiatives designed to improve opportunities for good health for people of color and undo the health consequences of racism.

From 2008 to 2014, Dr. Smedley was Vice President and Director of the Health Policy Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, DC, a research and policy organization focused on addressing the needs of communities of color. Formerly, Dr. Smedley was Research Director and co-founder of a communications, research and policy organization, The Opportunity Agenda, which seeks to build the national will to expand opportunity for all. Prior to helping launch The Opportunity Agenda, Dr. Smedley was a Senior Program Officer in the Division of Health Sciences Policy of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), where he served as Study Director for the IOM reports, In the Nation’s Compelling Interest: Ensuring Diversity in the Health Care Workforce and Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care, among other reports on diversity in the health professions and minority health research policy. Dr. Smedley came to the IOM from the American Psychological Association, where he worked on a wide range of social, health, and education policy topics in his capacity as Director for Public Interest Policy. Prior to working at the APA, Dr. Smedley served as a Congressional Science Fellow in the office of Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-VA), sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Among his awards and distinctions, in 2013 Smedley received the American Public Health Association’s Cornely Award for social activism; in 2009 Smedley received the Congressional Black Caucus Congressional Leadership in Advocacy Award; in 2004 he was honored by the Rainbow/PUSH coalition as a “Health Trailblazer” award winner; and in 2002 he was awarded the Congressional Black Caucus “Healthcare Hero” award.

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