Hamilton, NJ, February 9, 2023 — The Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) today announced 15 public sector leaders from across the country competitively selected for the inaugural class of the Equity Changemakers Institute. This leadership development program, led by CHCS, aims to bolster the capacity of public sector leaders who oversee state-led initiatives to advance health equity for millions of people.

“An increasing number of public sector leaders are responsible for promoting health equity efforts within their agencies,” said Allison Hamblin, MSPH, president and CEO, CHCS. “By investing in leadership development and a peer-support network for individuals in these important roles, we are creating long-term opportunities for delivering more equitable services in communities nationwide.”

The Equity Changemakers Institute will help participants cultivate the skills to drive transformational change and positively impact the health of those who live in their states. Individuals chosen to join the Equity Changemakers Institute Class of 2023 represent 13 states and bring a wide range of professional and lived experience to their work.

The cohort includes:

  • Ashley Bennett, Health Equity Program Manager, Washington State Healthcare Authority
  • Eva Bighorse, Tribal Health Coordinator, Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities
  • Rhiannon Blackdeer de Prado, Health Equity Director, Direct Care and Treatment Administration, Minnesota Department of Human Services
  • Alex Castillo Smith, Acting Deputy Cabinet Secretary, New Mexico Human Services Department
  • Carmelita Cruz, Executive Equity Officer, Office of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports
  • Jeannie Jonas, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Oversight Manager, Oregon Department of Human Services
  • Amanda Medina-Forrester, Executive Director, Office of Minority and Multicultural Health, New Jersey Department of Health
  • Breanca Merritt, Chief Health Equity and ADA Officer, Indiana Family and Social Services Administration
  • Maggie Middleton, Attorney for Special Projects and Strategic Initiatives, Mississippi Division of Medicaid
  • Margaret Mullins, Determinants of Health Program Coordinator, Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Bureau, Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
  • Viveka Prakash-Zawisza, Senior Associate Medical Director, Payment and Care Delivery Innovation, MassHealth
  • Sarah Qin, Deputy Director, Strategic Initiatives, MassHealth
  • Ruben Soliz, Federal Relations and Health Policy Advisor, Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System
  • Oliviah Walker, Health Equity Officer, Office of Health Equity, Iowa Health and Human Services
  • Nicolette Wise, Social Determinants of Health Director, TennCare

“Public sector leaders play a critical role in ensuring everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible,” said Mark Larson, senior vice president at CHCS and former Vermont Medicaid director. “We are excited to support this inaugural class of leaders who manage programs that are so pivotal to the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities with diverse identities.”

During the 10-month-long program, participants will gain skills and competencies for effective leadership; engage in individual and group coaching sessions; develop a Leadership Action Plan; and connect with peers to forge long-term support networks. For more information about the Equity Changemakers Institute, visit www.chcs.org/project/equity-changemakers-institute/.


The Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) is a policy design and implementation partner devoted to improving outcomes for people enrolled in Medicaid. CHCS supports partners across sectors and disciplines to make more effective, efficient, and equitable care possible for millions of people across the nation. Its national initiatives, including the Medicaid Leadership Institute and the Medicaid Pathways Program, build the skills and maximize the potential of public sector leaders to positively impact the health of individuals enrolled in Medicaid. For more information, visit www.chcs.org.