President and CEO
Charlie Shields serves as president and chief executive officer of University Health. Shields joined the system in 2010 as chief operating officer of University Health Lakewood Medical Center. He assumed his current role in 2014.
Shields brings to the role more than 25 years of healthcare leadership and decades of public service, including 20 years in the Missouri General Assembly, culminating his service with two years as president pro-tem of the Missouri Senate.
Shields strongly believes University Health exists for two reasons: 1) To serve as Kansas City's essential hospital, providing quality care to those with the very best insurance and those with no insurance at all. 2) To serve as an academic medical center, preparing the doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists of the future, and taking on the toughest cases.
With those two missions in mind when making all decisions, including the best path for the growth of University Health, Shields often has said, "Healthcare doesn't always have to happen within the four walls of a hospital."
During Shields' tenure, much of the system's clinical growth has occurred outside of the University Health Truman Medical Center and University Health Lakewood Medical Center facilities.
University Health 1 changed the look of outpatient care at University Health with a light and bright specialty and surgery center overlooking downtown. University Health Women's Care expanded the organization's ability to serve women in eastern Jackson County. University Health opened University Health On the Go! clinics in area Hy-Vees. Now, that growth continues with University Health 2 making primary and women's care more accessible downtown.
Within those four walls, Shields has worked to make sure University Health patients are seen in areas that reflect the extraordinary care they receive. More private rooms are being added, The Birthplace is receiving a long overdue update, and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is more than doubling in size.
During his tenure at University Health Lakewood Medical Center, Shields oversaw significant change and growth, including opening the University Health Women's Care Lakewood Family Birthplace.
Shields shared his expertise when he served as president of the Missouri Hospital Association. He is often quoted saying, "Education is the number-one determinant of economic status, and economic status is the number-one determinant of health status," bringing together the importance of education in living a long and healthy life. With this as a foundational belief, he serves as president of the Missouri State Board of Education. He is also deeply involved in and proud to serve the Kansas City community, holding leadership positions with the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas City Civic Council and the Urban Neighborhood Initiative.
Finally, Shields is a founding board member of the UMKC Health Sciences District, a collaboration between University Health; UMKC schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing and Dentistry; Children's Mercy Hospital; the Kansas City Health Department; and other entities, creating a true academic health center investing in research, advancing intellectual collaboration and developing a space for health innovation unlike any other in the region.
Executive Chief Administrative Officer
Mitzi Cardenas is a healthcare executive with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. She currently serves as the executive chief administrative officer for University Health with oversight of corporate administrative operations and services, including construction and real estate, strategy and planning, and information systems and technology.
Since arriving at the organization in 2008, Cardenas has led the efforts to bring it into the forefront as a front-runner in the use of leading-edge technology and innovation to improve patient safety and quality of care. From this effort, University Health recently earned its sixth consecutive "HealthCare's Most Wired" designation, as well as the prestigious Stage 7 designation from HIMSS Analytics (top 2% of worldwide hospitals). University Health is now one of only four two-time HIMSS Davies award winners, an internationally recognized honor for exceptional use of technology to improve quality of care. In addition, Cardenas has led the planning and oversight of major construction projects and facility improvements, resulting from a comprehensive strategic planning process and the plan developed for the organization.
Cardenas also has received recognition by Ingram's magazine as a "Hero in Healthcare" for the work University Health completed to use technology to achieve excellent health outcomes across the Kansas City community. In addition, she has been named as one of the Most Powerful Women in Health IT by Health Data Management for two years in a row, and in 2019 was named one of 25 female business leaders in "Women Who Mean Business" by the Kansas City Business Journal.
Since 2014, Cardenas has served as the chair of the American Hospital Association's Interoperability Advisory Group. She also served as the chair of the Missouri Hospital Association's HIT Committee. She played an integral role as a member of the board and executive committee for the Lewis and Clark Health Information Exchange, as well as several national advisory and vendor committees. She currently serves on the board of trustees for Park University and on the executive committee and board of the KC YMCA.
Before joining University Health, Cardenas held leadership roles in a pediatric academic medical center, the military health system and a multi-hospital healthcare delivery system. She received her bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Texas at Arlington and a Master of Science from Troy State University.
Chief Community Relations Officer
As chief community relations officer, Niki Lee Donawa is an expert in community building. She provides strategic direction in community health education, along with workforce and strategic partnership development, in order to position University Health—a two-campus safety-net healthcare system—as a leader in creating sustainable models to improve the health of the community. Donawa also is responsible for the management of contracts for Walgreens and Morrison's Food Service; both provide a unique opportunity to enrich the healthcare experience for patients, guests and staff.
Donawa was appointed to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City on Jan. 1, 2019, and is a member of the Women's Executive Leadership Council of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. She has served in various roles on the Health Forward Community Advisory Council, most recently as the chair of the council, and a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives. Other community service commitments include the DESE Legislative Committee for Trauma Informed Schools Initiative; University Health Linwood YMCA Advisory Committee; Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Workforce Planning Committee; vice chair of ArtsKC; the American Jazz Museum Board of Directors; and the Jackson County Chapter Links Incorporated Executive Committee. Donawa is the recipient of the Black Healthcare Coalition's Health Equity Award, celebrating individuals who are working to achieve healthcare equity in the Kansas City area.
She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Central Missouri and her MBA from Baker University.
Chief Operating Officer, Behavioral Health
Sharon Freese, RN, BSN, MSW, provides leadership for the University Health Behavioral Health division, including clinical services, staff competence, financial viability, customer satisfaction and client safety for hospital- and community-based services.
Freese has more than 25 years of nursing, mental health and healthcare leadership experience; she has served the last 26 years with the Behavioral Health division in a variety of roles including clinical nurse manager, director of nursing, associate administrator of inpatient services and, most recently, associate administrator for behavioral health quality, patient safety and risk management.
Prior to her service with University Health, she served as a registered nurse at two hospitals in Indiana. She later worked as a nurse and community mental health supervisor with Central Kansas City Mental Health Services, which merged with University Health Behavioral Health in 1997.
She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Purdue University and went on to earn her Master of Social Work from the University of Missouri – Kansas City. Freese also is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.
Chief, Health Policy and Government Relations
As the chief health policy & government relations officer, Gerard J. Grimaldi leads policy development and government strategies at the federal, state and local level and is responsible for government grants.
Grimaldi currently serves on the MO HealthNet Oversight Committee. He is an active leader in local, state and national hospital and healthcare organizations. Recognized for his expertise in safety-net healthcare financing and delivery, Grimaldi's advocacy skill has achieved numerous career accomplishments. He was a key strategist in the successful campaign for Kansas City, Missouri, funding for healthcare and emergency services in 2005, along with its 2013 renewal that achieved a 76% yes vote.
His civic and community leadership includes serving on the board of directors of the Downtown Council. He has chaired the Jackson County Community Mental Health Levy Board of Trustees and the Bannister Federal Complex Community Advisory Panel, and is a past chair of the Government Relations Committee of the National Association of Public Hospitals.
Previously, Grimaldi was Kaiser Permanente's vice president of strategy and human resources in the Kansas City market. Early in his career, he was a U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives staffer. As a congressional staff director, he helped achieve many area economic development, healthcare, housing and other accomplishments, including Blue River/Brush Creek flood control, Bruce R. Watkins Drive, and the establishment of the Harry S Truman National Historic Site.
A Kansas City, Missouri, native, Grimaldi graduated from the University of Missouri – Columbia School of Journalism. He and his wife, Julie, are the proud parents of four children.
Chief Medical Information Officer
Corporate Medical Director - Quality
As the chief medical information officer, Jeffrey Hackman, MD, FACEP, is the liaison between the medical staff and information technology. In this role he provides clinical leadership to the team supporting the University Health electronic medical record, helps set priorities for upcoming projects, and is the primary "translator" between physicians and IT professionals.
As the medical director for quality, Dr. Hackman has corporate responsibility for such varied areas as patient safety, accreditation, infection prevention and control, case management, performance improvement, utilization management and social work services. Dr. Hackman has been in this role since November 2015.
He received his bachelor's and medical degrees from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He completed a residency in emergency medicine before joining the faculty at University Health. He is board-certified in emergency medicine and clinical informatics.
Jolie Justus has spent more than two decades improving the lives of Missouri’s most vulnerable communities. She currently serves as General Counsel for University Health (UH), a position she regards as the perfect opportunity to continue her dedication to our community, while providing legal counsel to an essential academic medical center located in the heart of Kansas City.
From 2007-2015, Justus represented Kansas City in the Missouri Senate, including two years as Senate Minority Leader. During her tenure, Jolie earned a reputation for working across party lines to get things done. She passed dozens of bills, but one of her most significant accomplishments was an overhaul of the state’s criminal justice code that brought out-of-date policies into the 21st Century, creating a system that is more just and effective.
Justus also spent four years as councilperson for the city of Kansas City, Missouri. From 2015-2019 she was highly regarded as one of the council’s most pragmatic leaders, and she successfully led legislative and electoral efforts to extend the streetcar line and approve a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport.
Prior to joining UH, Justus served as Director of Pro Bono for Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP, where she led one of the top free legal service programs in the country.
Justus volunteers as a member of the Board of Directors for Legal Aid of Western Missouri and Operation Breakthrough. She is a member of the UMKC Chancellor's LGBT Council and the Women’s Public Service Network.
Justus received her J.D., with distinction, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and her B.S. in Electronic Media from Missouri State University.
Chief Marketing Officer
As chief marketing officer, Nancy Lewis provides leadership in the areas of strategic communication (internal communication with more than 4,500 staff members, external communication with the community, and patient communication), branding, marketing and media relations. She has taken the department in a new direction, with an expanded focus on data-driven marketing, price transparency and patient communication. She and her team launched the University Health brand in 2015, highlighting University Health's role as an academic medical center in partnership with UMKC. The brand now applies to University Health 1, downtown's only freestanding specialty and surgery center, University Health On the Go! clinics in area Hy-Vees, and University Health Community Care outpatient clinics in downtown and eastern Jackson County. University Health 2, a primary care and women's health medical office building, opened in 2020.
Lewis has more than 25 years of public relations, marketing and media experience. As director of public relations and communication for the Independence School District, she worked hand in hand with the superintendent to achieve strategic goals for district improvement. She oversaw all internal and external communication, and worked on promotion and development of community-wide projects. Her public relations team won a national Hermes Marketing award for media relations, competing against Fortune 500 companies and international marketing firms.
Prior to service with the Independence School District, Lewis worked for nearly two decades in television journalism, including 14 years as a special projects reporter/anchor with WDAF-TV in Kansas City, Missouri, where she won multiple Emmy Awards for her investigative and in-depth reporting. She was part of the special projects team that launched the "Problem Solvers" unit.
Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer
As the Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer, Maria Morgan leads the organization's efforts to leverage best practices and resources throughout University Health to promote a culture of inclusion and address healthcare equity. She collaborates with system leaders to work to create a culture where employees, patients, and community and business partners from all racial and ethnic identities, ages, nationalities, social and economic status, sexual orientation, gender/identity/expression, religious, political and ideological perspectives, and physical and mental abilities are able to thrive and engage.
Maria has more than 20 years' experience in the areas of equity, inclusion, civil rights law, employment law, employee relations, employment counseling, employment litigation human resources counseling, education law, special education law, executive contracts, and strategic planning.
Maria has spent most of her career reviewing, developing, and implementing programming and policy focused on equity and inclusion through her work in health care and education. She previously practiced law in Kansas City, where she focused on matters involving employment discrimination, harassment, and civil rights issues while serving as a labor and employment and education lawyer in law firms and corporations. She has significant experience training organizational leadership teams on equity and inclusion as well as employment issues, and previously worked as Staff Counsel for Health Midwest.
Maria holds a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Missouri – Kansas City and an undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri - Columbia.
Corporate Chief Nursing Officer
Corporate Chief Nursing Officer Amy Peters, RN, BSN, MBA, began her career at University Health Truman Medical Center (UH TMC) in 1994. After completing nursing school, she worked as a staff nurse in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit before serving in a variety of nursing leadership positions. In 2008, Peters moved to University Health Lakewood Medical Center, where she served as the associate chief nursing officer followed by the role of interim chief operating officer. Peters returned to UH TMC when she was promoted to corporate chief nursing officer in 2015.
As CNO, Peters has focused on advancing the patient experience for those receiving care at University Health; introduced Pathways to Nursing, a program to mentor high school students with career aspirations in nursing; developed a strong partnership with the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Nursing; and a variety of other initiatives designed to improve safety and quality, as well as enhance the practice of nursing at University Health.
Peters graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in biology; from Mid-America Nazarene University with a degree in nursing; and from Baker University with a Master of Business Administration. She serves on the board of the Missouri Organization of Nurse Leaders (region 2) and Zebra Technologies' Healthcare Customer Advisory Board. Peters recently was appointed to the Press Ganey CNO Advisory Council. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.
Chief Human Resources Officer
In her role as chief human resources officer, Ruth Stricklen Pullins builds strategy around enhancing employee engagement, investing in corporate culture and inspiring the more than 4,500 employees at University Health. In addition, she serves as a strategic partner to the CEO regarding all human resources areas and is the chief negotiator and spokesperson for the organization in all management labor issues. Pullins creates a path for building future leaders and propelling the leadership team to its full potential. She continues to advance the diversity initiatives at University Health and believes in establishing a collaborative and high-integrity culture.
Prior to this role, Pullins was the chief human resources officer and plan administrator for the University of Kansas Physicians. In this position she had oversight of organizational and employee development; communication and strategy; and pension and employee benefits. Pullins also partnered with the physician practices in public relations and marketing initiatives.
She has a graduate degree in communication studies from the University of Kansas; SPHR certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute; and CPLR Certification from the National Public Employer Labor Relations Association. She is an New York University-certified executive coach.
Pullins currently serves on the foundation board for Metropolitan Community Colleges, the board of Western Governors University and United Inner City Services of Kansas City, and supports the Boys and Girls Club of Kansas City. She formerly served on the National Parkinson Foundation Heartland Board and in a director role for the Kansas City Society of Human Resource Management. Pullins was named to the national Human Resources Executives HR Honor Roll in 2019.
Executive Chief Clinical Officer
University Health Physicians Executive Medical Director
UMKC School of Medicine Associate Dean for University Health Programs
As executive chief clinical officer, Mark Steele, MD, is responsible for oversight and leadership for all clinical hospital functions.
Dr. Steele attended the University of Missouri - Kansas City (UMKC) School of Medicine's combined six-year medical program, where he received his BA/MD degrees. His emergency medicine residency was under the tutelage of W. Kendall McNabney, MD, at University Health Truman Medical Center in Kansas City.
Dr. Steele has served on the faculty in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the UMKC School of Medicine/University Health since his graduation from residency in 1983. In 1987, he was named vice chairman, program director for the Department of Emergency Medicine; in 1990, and again in 1997, he was named as chairman, Department of Emergency Medicine. He has risen through the ranks to his current positions. Dr. Steele holds the position of associate dean for University Health Programs at the UMKC School of Medicine, where he also is a professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine.
In 2002, Dr. Steele was named as one of Ingram's Top Doctors of Kansas City, and he received the UMKC School of Medicine E. Grey Dimond, MD, Take Wing Award, which was established in the name of the school's founder and is awarded to alumni for outstanding achievements in medicine. Other honors and awards include becoming a Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians in 1988, receiving the UMKC Alumni Achievement Award in 1990, being inducted as a faculty member into Alpha Omega Alpha honorary medical society at the UMKC School of Medicine in 1992, and receiving the UMKC School of Medicine Excellence in Medical Education award in 1992. Dr. Steele recently was recognized with Ingram's Heroes in Healthcare Lifetime Service Award.
Academically, Dr. Steele has more than 100 peer-reviewed publications. His interests have been in the areas of infectious disease, wound care, circadian rhythms, shift work, emergency medicine practice and workforce issues.
Dr. Steele's professional memberships include the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the Missouri State Medical Association and the American Medical Association. In 2003, Dr. Steele was selected as a member of the board of directors for the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM), where he also served as president. He currently serves as a senior director, an oral examiner and an ABEM item writer.
University Health Lakewood Medical Center, Chief Operating Officer
As University Health Lakewood Medical Center (UH LMC) chief operating officer, Lynette M. Wheeler, DNP, RN, LNHA, FABC, is accountable for the day-to-day operations and administration for UH LMC and for the Jackson County Health Department.
Under the leadership of Wheeler, UH LMC received Vizient's Bernard A. Birnbaum, MD Quality Leadership Award for community hospitals in 2017. This award recognizes superior quality and safety leaders nationally. In 2017, and again in 2019, UH LMC received The Joint Commission Gold Seal for Advanced Certification for Total Joint Replacement Hips and Knees. The first metro area and first statewide hospital to receive this elite recognition, UH LMC has also received certification for Total Joint Replacement Shoulders.
Wheeler oversaw the effort to expand orthopaedic services at UH LMC through targeted recruitment of experienced orthopaedists and sports medicine specialists. In 2019, a new 8000-square-foot, dedicated Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Center opened, offering patients access to an integrated service line of orthopaedics, orthopaedic-based sports medicine and family medicine-based sports medicine.
Wheeler serves as a board member for many area community organizations, including the Health Forward Foundation, Hope House, Greater Lee's Summit Healthcare Foundation Truman Heartland Community Foundation, and the Independence Chamber of Commerce. In 2018, she was named Woman of the Year in Eastern Jackson County by the Examiner.
She has consistently taken a leadership role in driving development of grant-funded training programs for certified nursing assistants. These collaborations between educational programs, community organizations and UH LMC target workforce needs and employment opportunities in core communities in Eastern Jackson County.
Previously Wheeler served as UH chief nursing officer from 2011 to 2015, responsible for all aspects of nursing service programs and standards of nursing practice, including competencies and compliance with accrediting and regulatory requirements regarding inpatient, ambulatory and specialty programs.
Wheeler graduated in 2016 with a Doctor of Nursing Practice in Organizational Leadership from Kansas University School of Nursing. She is a member of the American Nurses Association and the Missouri Organization of Nurse Leaders.
Most recently Wheeler received her Missouri license as a nursing home administrator in order to better serve the residents in the University Health Lakewood Care Center. This long-term care facility opened in 1908 and is the oldest service on the UH LMC campus.
Director, Internal Audit and Compliance
As director of Audit & Compliance for University Health, Barb Zubeck's responsibilities include oversight for compliance, internal audits and patient privacy. She is responsible for auditing financial statements, ensuring compliance with laws and regulations, providing compliance training and education, and analyzing operating processes for effectiveness and efficiencies.
Zubeck has more than 35 years of financial and auditing experience with healthcare organizations and 15 years of experience in the compliance and patient privacy industry.
Prior to joining University Health in 2004, Zubeck served as internal audit manager for CHAN Healthcare Auditors, where she was responsible for the establishment of the audit function for Carondelet Health System, which included St. Joseph Health Center and St. Mary's Hospital of Blue Springs.
Zubeck also worked as director of internal audit for Health Midwest for 15 years, where she trained and supervised audit staff for the 13-hospital system; managed multiple audits at various locations; and ensured the accuracy of financial data and the efficiency and effectiveness of departmental operations. Zubeck also was a senior auditor for KPMG, LLP, one of the big four accounting firms.
She graduated with honors from University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. Zubeck is licensed as a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Internal Auditor.