Heidi L. GartlandDeputy Chair, Cleveland Chief Government and Community Relations Officer University Hospitals Cleveland, Ohio Class C Director Sector Representation: Healthcare Delivery Current term ends December 31, 2025
As an undergraduate college student studying pre-med, Heidi Gartland had the next several years of her life planned out. Then, as a college junior, she decided that she wanted to travel—a plan her father wasn’t thrilled about. Her critical thinking skills, honed at the liberal arts-focused College of Wooster, helped her devise a plan to convince him otherwise.
First step? She changed her major to South Asian studies.
“I picked a major that required me to go overseas,” she explains. “The only way I was going to complete it in four years was to travel to India at the beginning of my senior year.”
Just like that, everything changed. Though she didn’t become a doctor, she’s helping people nonetheless in her role as chief government and community relations officer at University Hospitals of Cleveland. She calls it “divine intervention” or “serendipity” that brought her where she is today.
“I wouldn’t have been happy [as a doctor],” she says. “I needed to change many more lives than one patient at a time.”
Her interests have always been in helping those in underserved communities, and she has a special passion for women’s and children’s issues. But it took some time to get to where she knew her talents would be best used and where she could help the most people.
On her way
First stop: Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. She lived there with a local family for a portion of her six months abroad during her senior year. In addition to her studies, she also travelled to small villages, worked in a maternity ward at a Christian missionary hospital, and visited a Kolkata orphanage that was run at that time by Mother Teresa, who years later would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and canonized by the Catholic Church as a saint. The nun happened to be there when Gartland and a friend, who was travelling with her before classes started, knocked on the door. She met with the two young Americans, a meeting Gartland will never forget.
“She touched my hand,” explains Gartland. “And she said, ‘you hold the love of a child in your hand.’ She touched my hand and she spelled C-H-I-L-D.”
Gartland’s experiences in India made her fall in love with public health; this, she thought, could be her calling to “go change the world.” But she still didn’t know how her career path would take her there. Next stops: Ohio and Illinois. Once she was back at home, it was time to make some decisions. She applied to graduate school and received a full scholarship to the Ohio State University to study health administration.
She spent some time working at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio and then Rush Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. She learned more about hospital operations and even more about herself. She realized that running a hospital wasn’t what she wanted to do.
It was during a six-month stint at the Illinois Hospital Association when Gartland began learning about advocacy and lobbying. “I just fell in love with that,” she says. “I’m really driven by making change through regulation and policy and really impacting the community and the community’s health.”
Gartland returned to Columbus for a job as health policy director at the Ohio Hospital Association. While negotiating a proposal at the state level for all hospitals in Ohio, Gartland made an impression with the then-head of University Hospitals (UH). Shortly after that, she was recruited to interview for a position as UH’s vice president of government relations. She accepted the job and worked for the Cleveland hospital system while living in Columbus.
That was 26 years ago, Gartland notes, when UH was primarily a one ZIP code organization. A year later, her husband’s job brought the family to Cleveland. At this point, and with two young daughters, she contemplated stepping out of the work world. Instead, the hospital created a part-time position for her as director of child advocacy at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. So she stayed.
“I finally got to my passion,” she says.
Back to the future
In 2003, she returned full-time to the same government relations position she had vacated in 1995, but she made sure that she could continue to work with UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s. Today she advocates for all UH facilities at the federal, state, and local levels, albeit now for a much larger system. UH comprises 20 hospitals, more than 50 health centers and outpatient facilities, and more than 200 physician’s offices throughout Northeast Ohio.
“That was the beginning of my next phase at UH of looking at the power of economic development and employment as a mechanism to really grow the community that’s around our anchor, our main hospital in Cleveland,” she says.
In her role she figured out a way to use new market tax credits as a lending vehicle to build a new women’s and children’s health center in an underserved, economically distressed area of Cleveland. “We’re a not-for-profit, so we reinvest dollars back in the community,” she explains. “It’s my job to convince leadership to reinvest those dollars, not just in bricks and mortar, but in that footprint of the community [. . .] and to figure out where we can invest in the areas with the greatest need.”
Sharing insights with the Federal Reserve
Her role at UH dovetails with the community development work that the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland does. In 2018, when the Bank’s Community Development Department started its Community Advisory Council, Gartland thought the council was a perfect fit for what she could bring to the table, and the Bank agreed. She became an inaugural member of the group. In 2020, she was approached by the nominating committee of the Cleveland Fed’s board of directors to consider becoming a candidate for the Bank’s Cleveland board to share her expertise and insights on a broader scale. She was nominated and then elected a director. Her three-year term began January 2021.
“That’s the real excitement for me,” she says. “I really could see where a voice of healthcare and the work that we do at UH in social determinants of health would be valuable to the work of the Fed.”
Through the years, she has been actively involved with many community organizations and is looking forward to her term as a Federal Reserve director. “I was very humbled and honored to be elected,” she says. “I’m part of something that is keeping this economy moving and growing and assuring that we have prosperity for all.”
Heidi Gartland has been dancing since kindergarten. As a youngster, she wanted to be a professional ballet dancer and was accepted to the School of American Ballet in New York City. She was following in the pointe shoes of her grandmother, who was a professional ballet dancer with the Metropolitan Opera/New York City Ballet.
“I still love to dance,” says Gartland. “Ballet, movement, and dance have always been a piece of who I am. I dance any chance I can.”
Heidi Gartland and her husband, both originally from Medina, Ohio, went to the College of Wooster and met on campus. Both of Gartland’s parents went to the College of Wooster, too, and met there. Her husband’s sister is also a Wooster alumna. Wooster is home to the Fighting Scots.
Heidi Gartland has always been involved on the boards of community organizations, but at one point she was almost ready to disengage. And then she got some good advice: she had a great professional resume, but it was time to build her civic resume, she was told.
In addition to her work with the Federal Reserve, she’s currently vice chair of the Trauma Center Association of America and on two state-level boards (the Ohio Hospital Association Institute for Health Innovation and Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, where, after 26 years of service, she is the longest serving member). Over the years, she’s also been part of many local nonprofits, such as Business Volunteers Unlimited; the Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland, an initiative to create living-wage jobs in six low-income neighborhoods; and the Cleveland Food Bank. In 2015–2016 she cochaired the United Way of Greater Cleveland campaign and raised 42 million. “That gave me the confidence that I could do just about anything,” she says. “Being part of a board teaches you a lot about leadership. That has been very gratifying for me. You will always see me engaged in our community in some way. It’s a gift.”