Nikki Highsmith Vernick, MPA

Nikki is a visionary and entrepreneurial leader with a passion to continually create better human and social good in the world, especially for historically marginalized communities. As president and CEO, Nikki leads the Horizon Foundation in pursuing its mission to improve the health and wellness of people who live or work in Howard County and around Maryland. As the largest independent health foundation in Maryland, Nikki works alongside community partners to advance health equity so that everyone in Howard County can live longer, better and happier lives.

Since 2012, Nikki has engaged the board, staff and community to launch several new transformative initiatives to demonstrably improve community health outcomes, including expanding and transforming behavioral health services, improving the nutrition and physical- activity environment in schools and communities, dramatically reducing the consumption of sugary drinks and ensuring end of life care planning. She has evolved the Horizon Foundation into a strategic, equity-centered and impact-driven foundation with a local, regional and national presence.

Nikki has over 30 years of philanthropic, nonprofit and government experience in health. She previously served as senior vice president for program at the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) where she led national programs to improve health care for low-income Americans. Prior to that, she was deputy director of the Massachusetts Medicaid Managed Care Program, worked as a senior Medicaid analyst at the White House Office of Management and Budget, and was a professional staff member for a U.S. Congressman and Texas State Representative. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Texas and a master’s degree in public administration from American University.

She currently serves as chair of the board of the National Academy of State Health Policy and recently departed after nine years of serving on the board of trustees for the Maryland Philanthropy Network. She also serves as a board member for Grantmakers in Health, a national philanthropy serving organization. Nikki previously served on the Maryland’s Department of Health’s Advisory Committee on Minority Health and in a governor-appointed role on the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council. She served on the Howard County Spending and Affordability Committee, is a Leadership Howard County Class of 2014 graduate and volunteers at her children’s schools. She has received numerous awards, including the recent 2021 Daily Record’s Most Admired CEO Award, the 2020 Daily Record Health Care Heroes Award for COVID-19, the 2020 United Way Frank Miller Spirit of Partnership Award and the American Association of University Women, Howard County Branch Women of Achievement Award in 2019. She was also named a Jim Rouse Visionary Society Inaugural Member in 2018 given by Howard County General Hospital, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and was named one of the 50 Women to Watch in the Baltimore Sun in 2014.

Favorite things in Howard County

  • Watching her son play baseball at Kiwanis Wallas field.
  • Hiking with kids and husband at the McKeldin Area of Patapsco Valley State Park.
  • The wonderful sense of community.

Why I care about promoting health and wellness

Because all people in Howard County deserve to live a long, healthy life and because helping people and changing lives matters.