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Nikki Highsmith Vernick, President and CEO

Staff ,
Nikki Highsmith Vernick, President and CEO

Nikki Highsmith Vernick, MPA

Nikki is an entrepreneurial leader with a passion to continually create better human and social good in the world. 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. As the largest independent health foundation in Maryland, Nikki works with community partners to shape policy and to create programs 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 programs to demonstrably improve community health outcomes, including advancing health equity, expanding access to mental health services, improving school nutrition and physical activity and dramatically reducing the consumption of sugary drinks. She has evolved the Horizon Foundation into a strategic, impact-driven foundation with a local, regional and national presence.

Nikki has over 25 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. At CHCS, she managed a team that focused on expanding access to high-quality dental, mental and preventive care services for Medicaid beneficiaries and helping states pilot innovative payment and delivery systems models. 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. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Texas and a master’s degree in public administration from American University.

Nikki currently serves on the Maryland’s Department of Health’s Advisory Committee on Minority Health and previously served in a governor-appointed role on the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council.  She currently serves as a member of the board of trustees for Grantmakers in Health and chair of the board of the National Academy of State Health Policy. She previously served on the board of Maryland Philanthropy Network, as well as on the Howard County Spending and Affordability Committee. Nikki is a Leadership Howard County Class of 2014 graduate and volunteers at her children’s schools.  She has received numerous awards, including the recent 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.


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