Two Rising Health Care Human Resources Leaders Named 2017 Gary Willis Leadership Award Winners by AHA Health Forum and ASHHRA

Since 2010, the Gary Willis Leadership Award has honored health care HR professionals who achieve operational excellence.

AHA Health Forum, the strategic business enterprise of the American Hospital Association (AHA), and the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA), today announced two dynamic and enterprising health care HR professionals as the 2017 Gary Willis Leadership (GWL) Award winners.

This year’s honorees are Danielle Gilbert, administrative director, human resources for Bon Secours Health System in Richmond, Va., and Donnette Truss, business partner, human resources for Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York.

The GWL Award honors the memory of Gary Willis, a respected and accomplished ASHHRA board member who passed away in 2010 after a battle with cancer. The award recognizes mid-level managers and directors who have made outstanding leadership and operational contributions to their organization. As reflected by this year’s winners, the award also recognizes HR professionals who have demonstrated a commitment to continuous learning that enhances the operational excellence, service and value delivered by their employers.

“We have the utmost respect for Danielle and Donnette’s devotion to advancing the health care human resources profession,” said Kathleen Wessel, Health Forum’s vice president, business development. “Their contributions exemplify the kind of strong commitment for which the Gary Willis Leadership Award was created.”

ASHHRA Executive Director Catherine Carruth said, “We are thrilled to recognize two great examples of the leadership qualities Gary Willis represents. Danielle and Donnette have both demonstrated their passion, commitment and leadership to the health care human resources field, and we’re happy to have this opportunity to highlight their contributions for the ASHHRA membership, as well as the HR community at large.”

Gilbert joined the Bon Secours Health System in 2010 after leading HR for major retailers. Her role includes HR counseling, HR policy management, diversity and inclusion recruiting, employee relations and CEO support. Health care’s impact on people is what drew Gilbert to the field. She views health care as a “calling,” and not just a job.

“Once I got into health care, it inspired me to keep going because of the impact that health care has had in my own life, and the lives of those who are most vulnerable,” she said. “Having a retail background gave me a different perspective.”

Recently, Gilbert was asked to lead an effort to identify cost savings and improvements within Human Resources for the Bon Secours Health System. Gilbert and her team identified inefficiencies and recommended a new HR services delivery model. After educating more than 2,000 employees on the new model and securing buy-in from leadership, the team moved forward with a new standard that will realign HR services with industry best practices. This includes the creation of an HR Operations Center with Centers of Excellence, enhanced technology, and the expansion of self-service opportunities for both employees and managers.

Winning the 2017 GWL Award is still a shock for Gilbert, who approached the high-profile project with a “service first” outlook. “It took me a day or two to realize that I had actually won,” she said. “This is more than amazing. I’m honored and blessed to be recognized for my leadership.”

Aj Sanders, president and executive coach of Aj Sanders Training and Consulting, LLC, recommended Gilbert for the GWL Award. She credits Gilbert’s community mindedness as one of her many strengths.

“Danielle is extremely community focused and passionate about providing mentoring and leadership support for up-and-coming health care professionals and colleagues,” said Sanders. “She is a hardworking, highly ethical health care professional with endless energy and passion for mentoring and developing future health care professionals.”

Truss’ health care career began by chance. Early in her career, she accepted a job at a dialysis center to manage billing, and shortly thereafter she transitioned to payroll and employee benefits. The opportunity to support people through the employee life journey sealed her progression in the field.

Focusing on employee development and leading with compassion is what drives Truss in her role with Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital, where she leads labor and employee relations matters and employee engagement. Her mark on the hospital was evident when Truss partnered with the hospital’s IT division to successfully implement a new electronic timekeeping system. This ongoing project will be rolled out to the hospital population of more than 5,000 employees, of which 70 percent are unionized under varying bargaining agreements. Truss led the initial assessment, implementation of new policies, and validation and evaluation of the new system.

Christopher Berner, vice president, human resources at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital, recommended Truss for the GWL Award and praised her role in the project. “What I’m most excited about is how Donnette has emerged in the past two years as a true leader in dynamic and complicated situations,” said Berner. “She is recognized for her ongoing success in leading highly visible projects for the hospital. She has earned the trust and respect of the staff across the hospital and health system.”

Admittedly one to shy away from the spotlight, Truss stepped out of her comfort zone and submitted for the GWL Award after reading a book that encouraged her to take more chances. “When I found out that I won, I couldn’t stop smiling, and I still can’t stop smiling,” she said. “This is one of those things that keeps reverberating. It’s wonderful to be recognized by a team of your peers.”

The 2017 GWL Award honorees were recognized at the ASHHRA 53rd annual conference in Seattle on Sept. 16.

About the AHA
The American Hospital Association (AHA) is a not-for-profit association of health care provider organizations and individuals that are committed to the improvement of health in their communities. The AHA is the national advocate for its members, who include nearly 5,000-member hospitals, health systems and other health care organizations and 43,000 individual members. Founded in 1898, the AHA provides education for health care leaders and is a source of information on health care issues and trends. Visit to learn more.

Founded in 1964, ASHHRA is a personal membership group of the American Hospital Association (AHA) and has more than 3100 members nationwide. It leads the way for members to become more effective, valued, and credible leaders in health care human resources. As the foremost authority in health care human resources, it provides timely and critical support through research, learning and knowledge sharing, professional development, products and resources, and provides opportunities for networking and collaboration. For more information about ASHHRA, visit our website at

About AHA Health Forum
Health Forum is the strategic business enterprise of the American Hospital Association (AHA) dedicated to serving member hospitals by helping them identify the optimal solutions to their most pressing market challenges. Through the AHA Endorsement, along with educational programs featuring peers and industry experts, Health Forum supports the decision-making process for hospitals looking for partners to help with clinical integration, information technology, talent management, cultural transformation, financial sustainability, the patient flow and other key challenges.

Health Forum is proud to reinvest its profits in the AHA Mission: To advance the health of individuals and communities. For more information, contact us at or 800.242.4677. Also connect with us via LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.