March 29, 2022 News & Features » Cover Story

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Kelly Cannon, 38 

Senior director, Virginia Healthcare and Hospital Association Foundation

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Scott Elmquist

Affordable healthcare is one of the most important issues facing the average American. If you didn’t know it before COVID, now you know.

As the leader of the nonprofit VHHA Foundation, Kelly Cannon oversees a range of public health initiatives in support of patients and hospitals across Virginia.

Prior to assuming this role, Cannon worked on VHHA’s advocacy team as a key member during the effort to secure legislative expansion of Medicaid in 2018. She followed that by working on the implementation of policy and enrollment efforts with hospitals so Virginians could more easily access coverage. That effort remains one of her proudest moments.

“More than 500,000 Virginians got affordable healthcare because of that,” she recalls. “It also started my drift toward the foundation work I do now.”

Cannon sees the shift as a natural progression. She studied government at William & Mary – the 9/11 tragedy interrupted her freshman year -- and as a pre-med student was studying anthrax during the scare weeks later, which led to her interest in public affairs. The youngest registered lobbyist for both 2005 and 2006, she ran Virginia21, a nonprofit that advocates for young voters.

“This is my dream job and biology, nonprofits and public affairs brought me to this point,” she says. “They’re going to have to wheel me out of here. I love what I’m doing.”

If that sounds hyperbolic, consider that Cannon had a baby in January 2020 and wasn’t due back from maternity leave until after Easter. When the pandemic struck in March, she announced she was coming back to work immediately, albeit remotely so she could oversee virtual schooling for her kindergartener and care for the baby.

“We had a big role to organize the workforce response effort and help hospitals address the staffing shortages they were suddenly facing because of COVID,” she explains. “We had to determine how to address staffing shortages for each wave and work for policy changes at the state level to get students and those out of the workforce back into it.

“My newborn spent a lot of time on Zoom calls,” she adds.

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