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Remembering Deanna Mills, former executive director of Community-University Health Care Center

Deanna Mills, executive director of CUHCC from 2006-2016, died March 9, 2022.
Deanna Mills, courtesy of the Community-University Health Care Center.

“She influenced a lot of people that I never really knew about, that have been coming out of the woodwork saying how she influenced them positively,” said Anthony Hall of Deanna Mills, his wife of 42 years.

Deanna Eileen Mills, the executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Community-University Health Care Center (CUHCC) from 2006-2016, died on March 9, 2022. She was 67 years old. Her friends, coworkers and family describe her as courageous, humble, sympathetic and a compassionate leader.

“She was a wonderful person. She was a strong person. She cared deeply about people being treated right,” Hall said. “She wasn’t one to blow her own horn, but she really did a good job of helping people be their better self.”

According to Hall, the two of them met at the Pilot City Health Center in north Minneapolis while Deanna was working as a dental hygienist and Hall was a public information officer.

“She loved to travel, to go to new places, but she didn’t want to go to the same place again,” Hall said. “Even if we liked the places [she’d say] ‘I don’t want to go back there again. Let’s go to a new place.’”

Courtesy of the Community-University Health Care Center.

Deanna had the ability to bring the best out in people and encouraged them to push themselves, Hall said. He said she was a kind of quiet leader and although she was an introvert, Deanna had a strong sense of self.

“She was one of the very few women CEOs that made her voice heard,” May Thao, the director of compliance for Boynton Health, said.

When she first met Deanna in 2007, Thao said Deanna immediately helped give her the resources she needed to be successful as a new supervisor in CUHCC.

“She basically said to me ‘You’re gonna fall and we’ll let you fall and we’ll pick you back up and we’ll start over again. it’s going to be a lesson learned no matter what,’” Thao said. “She was fierce and fabulous when she needed to be, and when she was just herself, she was always calm and collective.”

Colleen McDonald Diouf, the current CEO of CUHCC, said Deanna was well known across community health centers and was the executive director of two other community health centers before coming to CUHCC.

McDonald Diouf added that while Deanna was the CEO, she led a group called the Federally Qualified Urban Health Network (FUHN).

“[FUHN] was 10 clinics that came together to improve care, reduce total cost of care [and] improve health outcomes for people across the Twin Cities,” McDonald Diouf said. “That project, as a network – they saved the state of Minnesota $26 million in Medicaid.”

Deanna’s coworkers said she made social justice and health equity a focus of her career.

“Deanna was always committed to the best healthcare for everybody and she personally had a strong anti-racist view,” Christopher Reif, the director of clinical services for CUHCC, said. “She brought that to the work that she was doing, so promoting equity or good health for everybody.”

According to Reif, he first met Deanna in 1974. “She just had a very personable touch that I think made people included and then also put them at ease,” Reif said.

Courtesy of Anthony Hall.

He recalled a memory where Deanna and he were meeting with a group of architects to talk about designs for the clinic. He said the representatives from the architectural firm were all men and the head architect tended to direct the conversations at the men in the room, excluding Deanna.

“Deanna just said ‘No, you can direct your conversation to me, I am the CEO here at the clinic,’” Reif said. “She was very good at what she did and she claimed respect for what she did.”

McDonald Diouf recalled a quote from Deanna about working together effectively as community health centers: “We have to move from being fierce competitors to fierce collaborators.”

Thao said she remembered a day in 2010 when Deanna gave her a magnet with the word ‘Journey’ on it.

“She said, ‘I’m giving it to you because you need to know it’s not going to be smooth sailing,’” Thao said. “And she said, ‘I know where you’re coming from, and things are going to be hard, but you don’t stop, you just keep going.’”

Deanna is survived by her husband, Anthony Hall, her three children Patricia, Demetrius and Marcus, and her siblings Marsha, Barbara and James and grandchildren Daylen and Kylee.

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