Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, got her start in healthcare more than 30 years ago. After starting off as a hospital volunteer, she began her professional career as special events director at Mount Carmel Mercy Hospital in Detroit. She then made her way through the ranks in the healthcare industry, eventually signing on as the metro executive and development director at the Dallas-based American Heart Association in 1986.
Fast forward to now, and Brown has served as the nonprofit organization’s chief executive for nearly nine years. After taking on various roles at AHA, she’s learned “how valuable everyone’s role in AHA is.” The organization currently employs 3,000 people in more than 70 countries and is in every major U.S. city.
I spoke to Brown about the AHA’s impact since moving its headquarters from New York City to Dallas in the 1970s, its role in DFW, and its future plans to fight heart disease and stroke.
What is it about AHA that’s led it to be the largest volunteer organization fighting against stroke?
“We’re a scientific organization that has an ability to execute programs and activities [battling stroke and cardiovascular disease] through the broad grassroots network of the AHA. Specifically, we execute that science but also through public policy at the local, state, and federal level, and work to transform communities.”
What prompted AHA to relocate its headquarters from New York to Dallas decades ago?
“During that time, AHA’s model of the association was to develop and create programs and products that could be implemented and sent to local affiliates … It was similar to a product distribution model. [But] AHA visionaries said they saw potential in Dallas. It was more central to service the entire country. And what a smart move that was.”
So, what is AHA’s presence like in DFW now?
“We employ 1,200 [in our Dallas office]. AHA’s total revenue was $863 million for the 2015-16 year. With less than a month to go before fiscal year-end, we’re focused on delivering growth for ’16-’17. We’re growing as an organization with our ventures. For example, at the recently established Institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine, we’re working at the intersection of science and technology and trying to find new ways to work with data and genetics. We also work in furthering research and science, and we’re the second largest funder in national health grants.”
I know AHA funds grants to further cardiovascular disease research. How many are given out in Dallas?
“Of the 2,200 active research grants given to scientists and researchers nationally, AHA funded 47 awards valued at $11,047,180 in DFW. They were given to Texas A&M University–Commerce, UT Arlington, UNT Science Center–Fort Worth, and UT Southwestern Medical Center.”
So, what are some future plans being drawn up at the headquarters?
“Improving cardiovascular health is a large area of focus, knowing that fewer than 3 percent of Americans have ideal cardiovascular health. It’s our goal to improve cardio health by 20 percent by 2020. We’re also working on our science, grassroot efforts, and branding to achieve this. [We’ve also developed a four-part plan] in this area: enabling data sharing, since everyone’s talking about sharing data but no one’s talked about enabling and creating a data discovery platform, so there’s one place to look at electronic health records and medical info; working with our patient research network, where AHA patients can donate their own data to personalize medical records; giving large competitive grants to look further into cardiac fitness; and convening organizations that are interested in cardiovascular medicine to create a strategic national blueprint.”
Any final thoughts?
“Our local Dallas division is our most successful local one. They have the most donors, and the involvement and influence of leaders in our community gives us a great opportunity to test these concepts at our institution and work with local healthcare institutions.”