Speaker Bios

Public Health Under Siege: Improving Policy in Turbulent Times

Meet our prestigious speakers.

Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi is the 52nd Speaker of the House of Representatives, having made history in 2007 when she was elected the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House. Now in her third term as Speaker, Pelosi made history again in January 2019 when she regained her position second-in-line to the presidency, the first person to do so in more than 60 years. As Speaker, Pelosi is fighting for the people, working to lower health care costs, increase workers’ pay through strong economic growth and rebuilding America, and cleaning up corruption to make Washington work for all. For 31 years, Speaker Pelosi has represented San Francisco, California’s 12th Congressional District, in Congress. She has led House Democrats for 16 years and previously served as House Democratic Whip. Pelosi brings to her leadership position a distinguished record of legislative accomplishment. She led the Congress in passing historic health insurance reform, key investments in college aid, clean energy and innovation, and initiatives to help small businesses and veterans. She has been a powerful voice for civil rights and human rights around the world for decades.

Henry WaxmanHenry A. Waxman served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 40 years. He was chairman and ranking member of the Energy & Commerce Committee and Committee on Oversight & Government Reform. He also served as chairman and ranking member of the Energy & Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and the Environment. His legislative work and tenacity earned him recognition as “one of the most accomplished legislators of our time” by Washington Post columnist Harold Myerson and “tougher than a boiled owl” by Sen. Alan Simpson when pushing for passage of the landmark Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. He is chairman at Waxman Strategies, advising clients on public policy and continuing to focus on the issues he championed while in Congress, including health care, environment, energy, technology and telecommunications. In addition, he serves as a Regent Lecturer for University of California, Los Angeles, and as an advisor and lecturer at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is the author of “The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works.”

Leana Wen, MD, is the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Before joining Planned Parenthood, Wen served as the Baltimore City health commissioner, where she oversaw more than 1,000 employees with an annual budget of $130 million; two clinics that provide more than 18,000 patients with reproductive health services; and mental health programs in 180 Baltimore schools. A board-certified emergency physician, Wen was a Rhodes Scholar, Clinical Fellow at Harvard, consultant with the World Health Organization, and professor at George Washington University. She has published over 100 scientific articles and is the author of the book When Doctors Don’t Listen. In 2016, Wen was honored to be the recipient of APHA’s highest award for local public health work. In 2018, Time Magazine named her one of the 50 most influential people in health care.

Brett GiroirBrett P. Giroir, MD, is assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he leads development of HHS-wide public health policy recommendations and oversees 11 core public health offices — including the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. He also oversees three presidential and 11 secretarial advisory committees. He is a physician, scientist and innovator, former medical school executive and biotech startup CEO, and has served in a number of leadership positions in the federal government as well as academia. He serves as senior advisor to the secretary for Opioid Policy, chaired the Veteran’s Choice Act Blue Ribbon Panel to reform the U.S. Veterans Health System, and during the Ebola emergency, he directed the Texas Task Force on Infectious and Disease Preparedness Response. Giroir cared for critically ill children for 14 years, has authored or co-authored almost 100 peer-reviewed scientific publications and holds patents on a number of biomedical inventions. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the U.S. Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service.

Boris LushniakRear Admiral (Ret) Boris D. Lushniak, MD, MPH, is dean and professor of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, where he has launched a global health initiative and has also prioritized public health action for civic engagement around issues such as preventing gun violence. Previously professor and chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics and professor of dermatology at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, Lushniak served as an officer in the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps for 27 years, culminating in roles as U.S. Deputy Surgeon General and Acting Surgeon General. During the 2015 ebola epidemic, he commanded the USPHS Monrovia Medical Unit in Liberia. He orchestrated the release of the 50th Anniversary Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health and the first ever Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer. He began his USPHS career in 1988 in the Epidemic Intelligence Service and was part of the team at Ground Zero and the CDC anthrax team. In 2004 he transitioned to the FDA in the Office of Counterterrorism and was appointed FDA assistant commissioner in 2005.

Ron NirenbergRon Nirenberg, MA, is the mayor of San Antonio. He was first elected to represent District 8 on the San Antonio City Council in 2013. During his two terms, he championed smart city and regional planning, inclusive economic development, environmental stewardship, fiscal responsibility and governmental accountability. Nirenberg is the chairman of Sister Cities International, a nonpartisan organization that connects cities across the globe through civic, educational and cultural exchanges. In 2018, the United States Conference of Mayors recognized Nirenberg with the Small Business Advocate award for his efforts to encourage entrepreneurism. He believes that success is best achieved by partnerships. As councilman, Nirenberg brought together a public-private coalition to save the world-renowned Bracken Bat Cave, the largest colony of bats in the world. Prior to his public service, Nirenberg was the founder of two small businesses, worked as the general manager of KRTU-FM San Antonio, and as a program director for the Annenberg Public Policy Center, where he developed and directed award-winning civic engagement programs.

Colleen BridgerColleen Bridger, MPH, PhD, was named director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District in March 2017. She is responsible for implementing policies aimed at improving the health of the population in San Antonio and Bexar County and managing nearly two dozen programs, including WIC, vector control, air quality, STD/HIV prevention and tuberculosis control and prevention. She has oversight of a $44,000,000 budget and a staff of nearly 500 public health professionals. A nationally recognized speaker, trainer and innovations expert, Bridger has over 20 years of experience in community development and improvement.

Steve ClemonsSteve Clemons is editor at large of The Atlantic and editor-in-chief of AtlanticLIVE, the events division of The Atlantic. Clemons is also a frequent foreign policy and politics contributor to MSNBC and other global networks. Clemons founded the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist policy think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. Prior to this, Clemons served as executive vice president of the Economic Strategy Institute, was senior economic & international affairs advisor to U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman, and was the founding executive director of the Nixon Center, now re-named the Center for National Interest. Clemons also serves on the International Advisory Board of GLOBSEC, is a member of the World Economic Forum Council on Geopolitical Risk and is an Advisory Board member of the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College. Clemons writes and speaks frequently on consequential national security, politics and economic policy issues.

Leslie CrutchfieldLeslie Crutchfield, MBA, is an author, educator, executive director of the Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, and senior advisor at FSG Social Impact Consultants. Her latest book is “How Change Happens: Why Some Movements Succeed While Others Don’t” (Wiley/April 2018). Crutchfield teaches Corporate Social Responsibility in the MBA program at Georgetown, and previously was managing director at Ashoka, the global venture fund for social entrepreneurs. She co-founded a national nonprofit social enterprise in her 20s. She has contributed to Fortune, Forbes, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and Stanford Social Innovation Review, and has appeared on programs such as ABC, FOX, NPR and PBS. She has served as a trustee of nonprofits like SEED Foundation and Kiva and volunteered with Crossroads Africa.

Susan DentzerSusan Dentzer is the president and chief executive officer of the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation. NEHI’s mission is to advance innovations that improve health, enhance the quality of health care, and achieve greater value for the money spent. One of the nation's most respected health and health policy thought leaders and journalists, and a frequent speaker and commentator on television and radio, including NPR, Dentzer previously served as senior policy adviser to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Prior to that, she was editor-in-chief of the journal Health Affairs, and from 1998 to 2008, she served as the on-air health correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. Dentzer is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the board of directors of the International Rescue Committee, Research!America and the Public Health Institute. She is a fellow of the National Academy of Social Insurance and the Hasting Center and serves on multiple advisory boards, including the March of Dimes public policy advisory group.

Stan DornStan Dorn, JD, is senior fellow at Families USA, where he plays a leading role in a broad range of projects, with a special focus on coverage innovations and federal strategies to lower prescription drug prices and improve drug development. His many areas of expertise include: Medicaid, CHIP, and the Basic Health Program; coverage for children, laid-off workers, justice-involved populations, and people with disabilities; and the intersection of tax and health coverage systems. Before joining Families USA, Dorn served as senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Health Policy Center, where he won the President’s Award for Outstanding Research. He also served as Health Division director at the Children’s Defense Fund, as managing attorney at the National Health Law Program’s Washington office, and as senior policy analyst at the Economic and Social Research Institute. He was also the initial project director of the Health Consumer Alliance, where he led the organization in its effort to win the Beneficiary Services Award of Merit from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Mary GavinMary Gavin, MS, is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and is chief of police for the City of Falls Church. Prior to her appointment as chief she served as the deputy chief for five years, overseeing the police department’s Operations and Services Divisions. Gavin’s prior experience includes 22 years with Arlington County Police Department. Her command experience included commanding the Vice/Narcotics Section and the Operations Police Districts. She has a strong record of community policing, developing innovative policing strategies, and leading/mentoring officers. She served on both the Arlington and Falls Church Youth Collaborative(s) along with many other initiatives to foster strong ties between public safety, youth and the community. She currently is serving on International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Executive Committee and chairs the Northern Virginia Chief of Police Executive Board.

Garth GrahamGarth Graham, MD, MPH, is president of the Aetna Foundation, where he is responsible for the Foundation’s philanthropic work, including its grant-making strategies to improve the health of people from underserved communities and increase their access to high-quality health care. Graham previously served as deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he also led the Office of Minority Health. His numerous achievements include implementing key health equity provisions of the Affordable Care Act, guiding the development of the first federal action plan to eliminate health disparities under the Obama administration, and driving the effort that closed the gap in flu vaccination rates among children of color. Graham, a widely recognized researcher, writer and editor on health disparities, was the assistant dean for health policy and chief of health services research at the University of Florida School of Medicine and has served on the faculty of the University of Florida School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School. He has also served on a number of boards including the World Health Organization Scientific Group on Equity Analysis and Research.

Shelley HearneShelley Hearne, DrPH, MPH, is president of CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente. She is also a visiting professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and executive director of the Forsythia Foundation. Previously, she was the managing director of the Pew Health Group of The Pew Charitable Trusts. She was also the founding executive director of the Trust for America’s Health. Her past posts include executive director of the Pew Environmental Health Commission, the acting director of the NJ DEP Office of Pollution Prevention, and a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She was the chair of APHA’s Executive Board and vice president of the Council on Education for Public Health. She has authored many national health reports, from bioterrorism to obesity, and has testified regularly before the U.S. Congress on bioterrorism, pandemic preparedness, health tracking and public health funding.

Emily HolubowichEmily J. Holubowich, MPP, is senior vice president of Cavarocchi Ruscio Dennis Associates, LLC. She joined CRD Associates in 2009 and has more than 19 years of experience in health and fiscal policy, government relations, strategic communications, and coalition management. As a senior member of the CRD Associates consulting team, Emily helps her clients promote and protect their interests in the nation’s capital. She is frequently sought out by the media for her expertise on public health and fiscal policy, appearing on MSNBC and National Public Radio and quoted in USA Today, Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Politico, and other publications. She is also called upon by universities and national organizations to lecture on the policy environment and best practices in strategic communications and advocacy. Previously, Holubowich served as the director of government relations for AcademyHealth and a senior health policy analyst with the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Kyleanne HunterKyleanne Hunter, PhD, is vice president for programs at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. A U.S. Marine Corps combat veteran serving multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an AH-1W "Super Cobra" attack pilot, Hunter’s actions in combat were awarded seven Air-Strike Medals. She also served as the Marine Corps’ Legislative Liaison Officer to the House of Representatives and the military liaison for the House Democracy Partnership. A long-time gun violence prevention advocate, she co-founded Vets for Gun Reform and has appeared on multiple national and international media outlets speaking on the issue. She recently gave a TED talk on the American problem of weapons of war in places of peace. Hunter is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Master in National Security Studies program. She also serves as the chair of the Employment and Integration subcommittee of the Secretary of Defenses’ Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.

Helga LuestHelga Luest, MA, is a senior manager of communications with Abt Associates, which, under contract with HRSA, developed a bullying prevention assessment tool with research and evidence-based practices to strengthen prevention efforts. She is the project director for the National Bullying Prevention Initiative and StopBullying.gov. She has worked in public interest public relations and health communications for the past 25 years. She is an expert on behavioral health issues, violence and bullying prevention, child abuse and neglect, family and domestic violence, and trauma-informed support. In 2016 Helga was appointed to the Maryland Governor’s Family Violence Council, she has served the U.S. Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus Advisory Group since 2009, and currently supports the development of the U.S. Congressional Trauma-Informed Care Caucus. In 2011 she was awarded the Congressional Unsung Hero Award for her effective advocacy work on violence prevention and response. Her passion for this work stems from her work with survivors to turn the dark cloud of violence into positive social change – something she learned in her own experience as a survivor of attempted murder and domestic abuse. The criminal justice process became a Forensic Files episode, as her case was one of the first in the United States to be tried with dental pathology as critical evidence.

Dannel MalloyDannel Malloy, JD, served as Connecticut governor from 2011 – 2018. During his two terms, Connecticut became a leader in implementing the Affordable Care Act and ushered in policies to address income inequality. Malloy signed legislation protecting the rights of transgender residents and increased funding for early childhood education and school districts with higher rates of poverty. He championed gun violence prevention legislation and earned the 2016 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his defense of Syrian refugees. His career included service as a prosecutor, practicing attorney, adjunct professor and as the longest serving mayor of Stamford. Malloy is the Rappaport Distinguished Visiting Professor at Boston College Law, where he draws upon his combined 22 years in government to illuminate matters across the spectrum of policymaking.

Xavier MoralesXavier Morales, PhD, MRP, is the executive director of Praxis Project, a national organization dedicated to supporting communities building power for health. Morales is a longtime advocate for community-driven initiatives to achieve health equity and environmental justice. Taking an expansive view of what constitutes good health and community wellness, he works in partnership to enable opportunities across the social determinants of health. Morales currently serves on the board of the Urban Peace Initiative, and was until recently chair of the City of Berkeley’s sugar-sweetened beverage tax expert panel. Morales often provides testimony in legislative arenas and is a frequent speaker at health conferences and health justice gatherings. A former Peace Corps volunteer (Hungary), he is originally from Sanger, California, and studied environmental sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, and city and regional planning at Cornell University.

Anand ParekhAnand Parekh, MD, MPH, FACP, is the Bipartisan Policy Coalition's chief medical advisor providing clinical and public health expertise across the organization, particularly in the areas of aging, prevention, and global health. Prior to joining BPC, he completed a decade of service at the Department of Health and Human Services. As deputy assistant secretary for health from 2008 to 2015, he developed and implemented national initiatives focused on prevention, wellness, and care management. Earlier in his HHS career, he played key roles in public health emergency preparedness efforts as special assistant to the science advisor to the secretary. Parekh is a board-certified internal medicine physician, a fellow of the American College of Physicians, an adjunct assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and an adjunct professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. He serves on the dean’s advisory board of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, the Presidential Scholars Foundation board of directors, and the board of directors of WaterAid America.

Catherine PattersonCatherine Patterson, MPP, is managing director for urban health and policy at the de Beaumont Foundation. She joined the Foundation as a program officer in April 2014. She leads the Foundation’s work in urban health and policy and is responsible for the administration and management of all grants. Prior to joining the Foundation, Catherine worked at the Pew Charitable Trusts. As a part of the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign, she led efforts in several states to help expand access to preventive oral health services, such as dental sealants and fluoridated water. Prior to working at Pew, Catherine taught preschool for five years, leading classrooms for both Head Start and the Virginia Preschool Initiative.

Joshua SharfsteinJoshua Sharfstein, MD, is vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He oversees the Office of Public Health Practice and Training and is director of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative. He also holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Health Policy and Management. Previously, he served as the secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the principal deputy commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as commissioner of health for Baltimore City, and as health policy advisor for Congressman Henry A. Waxman. His many awards and honors include the Harvard Medical School Rose Segal Award for Research, the Circle of Commendation Award from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and Governing Magazine’s Public Health Official of the Year.

Nsedu Obot WitherspoonNsedu Obot Witherspoon, MPH, is executive director of the Children’s Environmental Health Network. For the past 18 years, she has served as a key spokesperson for children’s vulnerabilities and the need for their protection, conducting presentations and lectures across the country. She is a leader in the field of children’s environmental health, serving as a member of the NIH Council of Councils, on the Science Advisory Board for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the External Science Board for the Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes NIH Research work. She is a co-leader for Advancing the Science/Health initiative of the National Collaborative on a Cancer-Free Economy. Witherspoon is also a board member for the Pesticide Action Network of North America, the Environmental Integrity Project, and serves on the Maryland Children’s Environmental Health Advisory Council. Witherspoon has held past appointments on the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee for the Environmental Protection Agency, and the APHA Executive Board. She is a past member of the National Association of Environmental Health Sciences Council and the Institute of Medicine’s Environmental Health Sciences Roundtable.

Georges BenjaminGeorges C. Benjamin, MD, has been executive director of APHA since 2002 and is leading the Association’s push to make America the healthiest nation in one generation. He came to APHA from his position as secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene following four years as its deputy secretary for public health services. He is board-certified in internal medicine and a fellow of the American College of Physicians, a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, a fellow emeritus of the American College of Emergency Physicians and an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Public Health. Benjamin started his medical career by managing a 72,000-patient visit ambulatory care service as chief of the Acute Illness Clinic at the Madigan Army Medical Center and was an attending physician within the Department of Emergency Medicine. He served as chief of emergency medicine at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and then chaired the Department of Community Health and Ambulatory Care at the District of Columbia General Hospital. He was promoted to acting commissioner for public health for the District of Columbia and later directed one of the busiest ambulance services in the nation. The author of more than 100 scientific articles and book chapters, Benjamin is a member of the National Academy of Medicine (Formally the Institute of Medicine) of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine and also serves on the boards for many organizations including Research!America.

Lisa SimpsonLisa Simpson, MB, BCh, MPH, FAAP, has been the president and chief executive officer of AcademyHealth since 2011. A nationally recognized health policy researcher and pediatrician, she is a passionate advocate for the translation of research into policy and practice. Before joining AcademyHealth, Simpson spent eight years as a professor of pediatrics, first as an endowed chair in child health policy at the University of South Florida and then as the director of the Child Policy Research Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati. She served as the deputy director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality from 1996 to 2002. Simpson serves on the Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Scholars Program National Advisory Council, the Board of Directors of the Institute for Accountable Care, the National Health Council and the Editorial boards for the Journal of Comparative Effectiveness Research and Healthcare: The Journal of Delivery Science and Innovation. In October 2013, Simpson was elected to the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine). 


Learn more about the AcademyHealth National Health Policy Conference.

We thank the de Beaumont Foundation, Aetna Foundation, and Jewish Healthcare Foundation for their generous support of the APHA Policy Action Institute.

de Beaumont Foundation  Aetna Foundation  Jewish Healthcare Foundation