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HCU 2022: Panelists & Speakers


Legislative Panel


Senator Dean Burke
District 11, Republican

Senator Dean Burke, a Republican, represents Senate District 11, which consists of Colquitt, Decatur, Early, Grady, Miller and Seminole counties along with portions of Mitchell and Thomas counties. Senator Burke serves as the Chairman of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee, Vice-Chairman of the Health & Human Services and Ethics committees. Sen. Burke also serves as the Chairman of the Community Health Sub-Committee Chair, which is responsible for 14 percent of the state's total budget.

Prior to being elected to the State Senate, Senator Burke contributed to his community by serving five years on the Bainbridge City Council and the Lower Flint Water Council. He is also a member of the Rotary Club and former member of the Hospital Authority of the City of Bainbridge and Decatur County. Senator Burke also dedicates time to the Boy Scouts of America where he serves as a volunteer.

Senator Burke graduated Summa Cum Laude from Georgia Southwestern University and went on to graduate from the Medical College of Georgia. He received his specialty training in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercer University School of Medicine and practiced obstetrics and gynecology for 27 years.



Senator Sonya Halpern
39th District, Democrat

Senator Sonya Halpern represents the 39th Senate district which stretches along the westside of the city of Atlanta, from Buckhead through the West End to East Point. Senator Halpern sits on the Senate Health & Human Services and Education & Youth committees, among others.

Before being elected to office in 2021, Sen. Halpern had a career in communications & marketing and served in a number of leadership roles in local and national arts organizations. She was the first African-American and first Georgian to Chair the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts, a position to which she was appointed by President Barack Obama.

Sen. Halpern received her bachelor’s degree at the University of Massachusetts before continuing on to the University of Hartford for her MBA. She is married to Daniel Halpern and has three children.



Representative Lee Hawkins
27th District, Republican
Chairman, Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight

In 2013, Representative Lee Hawkins was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, where he represents the House District 27, which includes Hall and White counties. He currently serves as the chairman of the Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight Committee, as well as the secretary of the Regulated Industries Committee. He also currently serves as a member on the Banks & Banking, Health & Human Services, Insurance, Rules and Small Business Development committees.

Before his time in public office, Dr. Hawkins was elected president of the Georgia Dental Association (GDA) in 2003. Later, he served as chairman of the delegation to the American Dental Association. He has been recognized by his colleagues as an Honorable Fellow of the GDA, selected as a Fellow of the American College of Dentist, and has received the Meritorious Service Award from the Emory Dental Alumni Association, among other honors.

Dr. Hawkins attended Emory University for his bachelor’s degree; University of Georgia for his post-graduate degree; and returned to Emory University School of Dentistry earning his D.D.S. degree. Dr. Hawkins and his wife Sharon have seven children: Nora, Ivory Michelle, Benjamin, Elizabeth, Meredith, Jim and Charlie. Today, he is a practicing dentist with his son, Ben, in Gainesville, Georgia.


Whitney Griggs  (Moderator)
Health Policy Analyst
Georgians for a Healthy Future

Whitney Griggs is the Health Policy Analyst for Georgians for a Healthy Future. She is returning to GHF after serving as the Southeast Regional Advocacy Manager at CARE for the past four years. Whitney started at GHF in 2015 as the Outreach and Engagement Manager.

Prior to joining GHF in 2015, Whitney worked for the Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia where she served as the Lead Health Insurance Navigator. In this role, Whitney helped Georgians across the state enroll in Qualified Health Plans through the ACA Marketplace.

Whitney earned her Master of Public Health from Emory University, with a focus on prevention science and advocacy. She also holds a B.Sc in Psychology with a focus in biology from Clemson University.

Keynote Speaker

Dr. Georges Benjamin, a Black man with white hair & a mustache who is smiling while wearing a black suit, grey shirt, and red tie.

Georges C. Benjamin, MD
Executive Director
American Public Health Association (APHA)

Georges C. Benjamin, MD, is the executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA) since 2002 where he has been leading the Association’s efforts to make America the healthiest nation. He came to APHA from his position as Secretary of Health for the state of Maryland. Prior to that he served for four years as the state’s Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services. As a secretary, Dr. Benjamin oversaw a department with a budget of over $4.5 billion and 10,000 state and local employees. He was successful in expanding and improving the quality of the state’s Medicaid program as well and improvements in the health of Marylanders. Dr. Benjamin is a graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois College of Medicine. He is board-certified in internal medicine and a Master of

the American College of Physicians. He is the author of more than 160 scientific articles and book chapters. His recent book, The Quest for Health Reform: A Satirical History is an expose of the nearly 100-year quest to ensure quality, affordable health coverage for all through the use of political cartoons. Dr. Benjamin is a member of the National Academy of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

He also serves as a board member of various organizations to include Research!America, the Reagan-Udall Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Truth Initiative. In 2014 and 2008, he was named one of the top 25 minority executives in health care by Modern Healthcare Magazine, in addition to being voted among the 100 most influential people in health care from 2007-2018 and one of the nation’s most influential physician executives from 2009-2015. He is also a former member of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council, a council that advises the President on how best to assure the security of the nation’s critical infrastructure.