RISE and Aligning for Health are thrilled to provide a blockbuster lineup of speakers including representatives across the aisle from the White House, HHS, HUD, U.S. House of Representatives, CMS, and the CDC.
Richard Cho US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Senior Advisor for Housing and Services
Richard Cho serves as Senior Advisor to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge. In this role, he advises the Secretary and helps set HUD’s policy strategy for solving homelessness, coordinating health with housing, and meeting the housing needs of people with disabilities, older adults, and people involved in the criminal justice system. Richard brings to this role two decades of experience at the community, state, and federal levels building collaboration between the housing, health care, social services, and criminal justice sectors to address the housing and services needs of vulnerable Americans. He served as Deputy Director at the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness during the Obama Administration and has held positions at the Corporation for Supportive Housing, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. He has a Ph.D. in Public Administration from New York University, a Master in City Planning degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago.
Kelly Cronin Deputy Administrator, Innovation and Partnership
HHS Administration for Community Living (ACL)
As Deputy Administrator of the Center for Innovation and Partnership (CIP), Kelly Cronin leads the administration of programs and initiatives that serve both older adults and people with disabilities, including consumer access and protection programs. This includes overseeing the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, grants to improve Medicare beneficiaries’ access to low income subsidies, and the State No Wrong Door System program for access to long-term services and supports. She also directs efforts to develop and integrate networks of state and community-based organizations to address social determinants of health and to advance the integration of medical and social care to improve health outcomes of older adults and people with disabilities.
Ms. Cronin also has served in a variety of other roles at HHS, including with the FDA, CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), where she coordinated health IT programs and policies associated with health care payment and delivery system reform.
Before joining HHS in 2001, Ms. Cronin was a health services researcher and coordinated clinical trials in pharmaceutical and medical technology industries. She holds a master of public health with a concentration in epidemiology and biostatistics and a master of science in health policy from the School of Public Health and Health Services at George Washington University.
Sarah Downer joined CMMI in 2022 as a Health Insurance Specialist in the State and Population Health Group, where she focuses on developing and implementing components of the Innovation Center’s strategy related to social determinants of health.
Prior to her work at CMMI, she served as Associate Director of the Harvard Law School Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation (CHLPI), leading CHLPI’s Whole Person Care initiative and the Social Determinants of Health Law Lab. This body of work analyzed opportunities to integrate novel services and supports into health care delivery and financing and explored legal barriers to scaling innovation within the health care system.
Sarah holds a BA from Harvard College and a JD from Harvard Law School.
Sandra Elizabeth Ford, M.D., M.B.A. Special Assistant to the President for Public Health and Science
White House Domestic Policy Council
Sandra Elizabeth Ford, M.D., M.B.A. is the Special Assistant to the President for Public Health and Science. In this role, which she began in May of 2021, Dr. Ford’s portfolio includes the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Office of the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR). Her primary areas of focus are the socials determinants of health (SDOH), health equity, and biopreparedness, including COVID-19 response, monkeypox, Ebolavirus, and other biological threats.
Prior to assuming this role, Dr. Ford held a number of public health leadership positions in Georgia, most notably as the District Health Director of DeKalb County and Chief Executive Officer of the DeKalb County Board of Health, a position she held for 16 years. In this role, Dr. Ford directed clinical and population-based services for DeKalb’s more than 760,000 residents who speak more than 130 languages and dialects. She was responsible for programs such as Emergency Preparedness, Environmental Health, and Refugee Health. Under her leadership, DeKalb County Board of Health received over $40 million in grant funding to address obesity, physical activity, nutrition, asthma and smoking cessation. Her Maternal and Child Health initiative, M.O.R.E. (Mothers Offering Resources and Education) has received national recognition and has been supported by entities as diverse as United Way and R&B icon Usher Raymond.
While Dr. Ford was serving as District Health Director for DeKalb County, she also served as the Interim District Health Director for Fulton County (population 1.04M) from 2019-2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her knowledge and expertise were essential when facing the COVID-19 crisis, and she was instrumental in ensuring the safety of the citizens of DeKalb and Fulton Counties simultaneously while still overseeing core public health services in both counties.
From May 2008- July 2009, Dr. Ford served as Acting Director of the Georgia Division of Public Health, where she orchestrated the agency’s reorganization. There, she also led the development of policy and legislation pertaining to public health and enforcing related laws and regulations.
Dr. Ford’s Public Health career began in April 2003, when she was appointed Florida Department of Health’s Deputy State Health Officer/Deputy Secretary for Children’s Medical Services, where she was responsible for the oversight of all health services for children with special health care needs in the state.
A board-certified pediatrician, Dr. Ford received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Stanford University, a Medical degree from Howard University’s College of Medicine, and a master’s degree in Business Administration with a focus in Health Services Administration from Howard University’s Graduate School of Business.
Dr. Ford has held faculty positions at Howard University’s College of Medicine, Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, and Morehouse School of Medicine. Her dedication to minority health and health inequities has led to appearances on CNN, CNN International and local Atlanta stations, including FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC, and NPR.
Alberto A. Gonzalez Jr., MPP
Senior Advisor for External Engagement Food and Nutrition Service
Alberto A. Gonzalez Jr., MPP Senior Advisor for External Engagement Food and Nutrition Service
United States Department of Agriculture
Alberto A. Gonzalez, Jr., MPP currently serves as Senior Advisor for External Engagement at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Alberto’s role at FNS involves engaging healthcare, food, nutrition, and anti-hunger partners on FNS’s more than 16 Federal nutrition assistance programs and the USDA’s food and nutrition security initiative.
Previously, Alberto was Senior Project Manager for Health Policy at UnidosUS, where he worked on state and federal health, nutrition and anti-hunger policies and led a federal legislative campaign to pass the Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA) of 2020.
Before joining UnidosUS, Alberto was Senior State Advocacy Manager at Community Catalyst in Boston, MA. Alberto also held roles at the California Immigrant Policy Center and the California State Assembly. Alberto has a master’s degree in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley.
Dr. Karen Hacker
Director, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Dr. Karen Hacker Director, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
Dr. Karen Hacker, MD, MPH, is the Director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), a position she assumed in August 2019. NCCDPHP has an annual budget of more than $1.3 billion and more than 1,000 staff members dedicated to preventing chronic diseases and promoting health across the life span.
Dr. Hacker leads an executive team that sets the strategic direction for the center’s portfolio, which focuses on:
Surveillance and epidemiology to move data into action.
Policy and environmental improvements to support health and healthy behaviors.
Health care system collaboration to strengthen delivery of preventive services.
Links between community and clinical services to improve self-management of chronic conditions and enhance quality of life.
From 2013 to 2019, Dr. Hacker served as Director of the Allegheny County Health Department in Pennsylvania, where she was responsible for 1.2 million residents in 130 municipalities, including Pittsburgh. Under her leadership, the Department achieved national public health accreditation in 2017. Dr. Hacker also launched the Live Well Allegheny initiative, aimed at reducing cigarette smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
Previously, Dr. Hacker was the Senior Medical Director for Public and Community Health at the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts. Between 2002 and 2013, she held a variety of leadership roles at the Cambridge Public Health Department and the Institute for Community Health (both part of the Cambridge Health Alliance).
Dr. Hacker served as Interim Chief Public Health Officer (2006 to 2007) and Medical Director for the Cambridge Public Health Department (2004 to 2013) and as Executive Director of the Institute for Community Health (2002 to 2013). She also spent several years working for the Boston Public Health Commission, with a focus on adolescent health, serving as Division Director for Child and Adolescent Health (1999 to 2002), Director of Adolescent and School Services (1992 to 1999), and Director of Adolescent Services (1989 to 1992).
As an expert in community-based participatory research (CBPR), Dr. Hacker served as the Director of the CBPR program of the Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Award Initiative (Harvard Catalyst). She wroteCommunity-Based Participatory Action Research, a widely used academic text, and taught a course on the topic at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. As the Executive Director of the Institute for Community Health, she designed, led, and published on numerous community participatory health projects. She has published 67 peer-reviewed articles on a wide variety of topics, including adolescent health and school-based health centers, obesity, substance use, and health policy.
Dr. Hacker received her BA from Yale University, her MD from Northwestern University School of Medicine, and her MPH with Honors from Boston University School of Public Health. She completed her internship and residency training in primary care internal medicine at Boston City Hospital, followed by an adolescent medicine fellowship at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. She is board-certified in internal medicine and has served as an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School (2010 to 2015) and at Harvard School of Public Health (2012 to 2015). She is currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate School of Public Health and Clinical Professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.
Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC)
Samantha Wallack Meklir serves as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Policy, Immediate Office within the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). In this role, she leads strategic policy development, coordination, and execution with industry and federal stakeholders to advance and inform the successful implementation of health IT including for opioid use disorder prevention and treatment, advanced health models, and settings across the care continuum. She’s held various positions within HHS over the past two decades including with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (Office of Legislation, Chicago Regional Office, and Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services), and with the Health Resources and Services Administration. She received her undergraduate degree from Tufts University and her graduate degree in Public Affairs from the LBJ School at the University of Texas- Austin in 2000.
Rick Whitted is the President & Chief Executive Officer at U.S. Hunger, a global nonprofit whose mission is feeding families today and uniting them to a healthier tomorrow. In total, U.S. Hunger (USH) has provided over 150 million meals to families in need. Before his appointment as CEO in March 2020, Rick served on USH’s board of directors.
Rick has overseen the launch of several of the organization’s initiatives: expanding home delivery of fresh produce into its supply chain; aligning its Full Cart® program with the government payor spaces; and, developing a SaaS solution that uses Predictive Analytics and Machine Learning to identify root causes of food insecurity in the U.S.
Rick is a graduate of Stetson University and Nova Southern University where he received a BA in Political Sciences/American Studies, and an MBA, Business Administration and Management, respectively.
Senior Director, Population and Public Health Team
Sandra Wilkniss Senior Director, Population and Public Health Team
National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP)
Dr. Sandra Wilkniss serves as NASHP’s Senior Director of Population Health where she directs programs focused on public health, social determinants of health and health equity. Prior to joining NASHP, she served as Director of Complex Care Policy and Senior Fellow at Families USA. In that role, she led the organizations’ national project on state approaches to equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine, collaborating with a broad network of national and state partners, as well as projects on behavioral health integration, and cost and value in health system with a special focus on prescription drug policies. Before that, Sandra spent six years as a Program Director at the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, advising governors and their senior staff on a variety of issues including: COVID-19 response (including state authority and best practices in testing, vaccine and treatment development, distribution and reimbursement, pandemic preparedness, housing, and behavioral health), social determinants of health, addressing complex care populations in health delivery and payment reforms, health as housing and cross-sector strategies in meeting the needs of children and families. She also spent three years in the United States Senate as Senior Legislative Assistant in Health Care to Senators Bingaman and Heinrich, beginning as an American Academy for the Advancement of Science fellow in Senator Bingaman’s office. Sandra is a clinical psychologist by training, held faculty appointments at Dartmouth Medical College, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Weil Cornell Medical Center, and was the director of Thresholds Institute, the research and training arm of Thresholds, Chicago’s largest psychosocial rehabilitation organization.