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The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has announced its 2023 Healthy Kentucky Champions, recognized for their dedication to improving the health and well-being of the communities they serve, at the local and/or state level. This year, three faculty and administrators from the University of Kentucky have received this honor.

This year’s recipients have been recognized for their work to address inequities in a variety of areas including mental, behavioral, and physical health, food insecurity, and support for rural and underserved communities.

This year’s winners from UK are:

Mark Birdwhistell, Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer, UK HealthCare

Mark D. Birdwhistell is passionate about advancing the health of all Kentuckians and has dedicated his career to reducing health care disparities through policy changes and administrative leadership. He serves as the senior vice president and chief administrative officer for UK HealthCare. Prior to his current position, Birdwhistell served in senior leadership roles in both the private and public sectors, including secretary for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Birdwhistell helped secure federal funding for care of individuals with mental and developmental disabilities. He also led the development of an innovative pilot project to combat the substance use disorder epidemic sweeping Kentucky and the nation.

Most recently, helped lead work on a value-based Medicaid directed payment program, which earned UK HealthCare a national Gage Award from America’s Essential Hospitals, a program that honors successful and creative member hospital programs that improve patient care and meet community needs.

Birdwhistell’s tireless championing of low-income Kentuckians through Medicaid expansion projects and policy, as well as health plan changes, has improved the overall health and health care access of communities across the Commonwealth.

Learn more about Birdwhistell’s contributions and accomplishments in Kentucky health care in UK HealthCare’s HealthMatters blog.


Donald Frazier, UK College of Medicine and UK Science Outreach Center

Donald Frazier, Ph.D. is the founder of the University of Kentucky Science Outreach Center, renamed the Donald T. Frazier Science Outreach Center in his honor. He is also a professor emeritus in the UK College of Medicine Department of Physiology. Frazier has spent decades helping youth in underserved populations, focusing on making science more accessible to these future scientists and health care workers. Throughout his career, he has taught more than 147,000 students across the state of Kentucky.

The Science Outreach Center hosted summer workshops, apprentice and mentoring programs. For many years, the Center, in concert with the anatomy department, has hosted high school junior and seniors, who are in advanced science/anatomy class, to a day-long physiology-anatomy presentation. Many students return to Frazier and tell them that it was this presentation that led them to a career in the health field.

Learn more about Frazier’s work with the Outreach Center over the past three decades.


Ellen Hahn, University of Kentucky College of Nursing, BREATHE, and UK-CARES

Ellen J. Hahn, Ph.D. directs the Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy, the BREATHE (Bridging Research Efforts and Advocacy Toward Healthy Environments) research team in the UK College of Nursing, and the Center for Appalachian Research in Environmental Sciences (UK-CARES) at the University of Kentucky.

Hahn conducts community-engaged environmental health outreach and research to reduce risk from tobacco use, tobacco smoke exposure, and radon exposure especially in rural, lower-income communities. For the past 20 years, she has provided expertise and direction to communities looking to enact smoke-free policies, and she recently joined Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton and others to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the city becoming smoke-free.

Listen to Hahn discuss her work to help people live a healthier, tobacco-free lifestyle in UK’s Behind the Blue podcast.


Birdwhistell, Frazier and Hahn are three of 14 Healthy Kentucky Champions named this year. This year’s other winners are:

  • Muhammad Babar, M.D., Doctors for Healthy Communities
  • Shelly Baer, Emerald Therapy Center
  • Donovan Blackburn, Pikeville Medical Center
  • Lacretia Dye, Ph.D., Western Kentucky University
  • Jeremy Harrall, Founders Veteran’s Club Inc.
  • Susan Jones, Ph.D., Western Kentucky University
  • Whitney Jones, M.D., Colon Cancer Prevention Project
  • Karl Lange, D.M.D., Mission Health Lexington
  • Katie Marks, Ph.D., Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities
  • Rhondell Miller, HOTEL INC.
  • Jerry Ugrin, Primary Plus

“Kentucky faces unique challenges to improving the overall health of its citizens, and these 14 men and women have removed barriers to resources that are changing and saving lives,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. “Because of their vision, hard work, and advocacy, our communities are better served.”

Previous UK winners of the Healthy Kentucky Champion award include UK College of Health Sciences’ Patrick Kitzman, CERH Director Fran Feltner and Kentucky Health News reporter Melissa Patrick. More information on the Healthy Kentucky Champion Awards available here.

This story was originally published on UK Now.