Two hospital CEOs chair Capital Region Heart Walk and Run

Dorothy Urschel, DNP, president and CEO of Columbia Memorial Health
Jill Johnson VanKuren, president and CEO of Saratoga Hospital

Dorothy Urschel, DNP, President and CEO of Columbia Memorial Health, and Jill Johnson VanKuren, President and CEO of Saratoga Hospital, are chairing the 2024 Capital Region Heart Walk and Run, set for June 2 at the W. Averell Harriman State Office Building Complex in Albany. Saratoga Hospital and Columbia Memorial Health are both members of the Albany Med Health System.

Both women have a long history of involvement and leadership with the American Heart Association.

Urschel began her healthcare career 33 years ago as a Critical Care Nurse and has been involved with Heart Association events since working in her native Canada and Buffalo at the start of her career. She served on the American Heart Association’s board of directors and while working at St. Peter’s Health Partners, she was a strong leader for the Capital Region Heart Walk and Heart Ball.

During her 17 years at MedStar Health in Maryland, VanKuren was also active with the American Heart Association, participating in and leading local Heart Association events.

Both women have personal reasons for supporting the American Heart Association, a global force for healthier lives for all, and leading the Capital Region Heart Walk.

“My mother is suffering with cardiac amyloidosis, which is one of a number of causes of congestive heart failure,” Urschel said. “She is my why. Without the research and support of the American Heart Association, more people will continue to suffer from this. This is the why supporting the Heart Association and makes us want to do more.”

VanKuren has been the CEO of Saratoga Hospital for nearly two years, after a 17-year career in administration at MedStar Health in Maryland, a network of 15 hospitals in a 17-mile radius. Her work there culminated with her position as the chief operating officer at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.

VanKuren’s sister is why she is chairing the Capital Region Heart Walk and Run.

“My sister has Takayatsu Arteritis, a virus that has attacked her immune system and led to heart problems,” VanKuren said. “She has had open heart surgeries, pacemakers, and a valve transplant. She’s alive because of scientific advances, and it’s critical that we keep funding the research of the Heart Association. I will be walking in honor of her.”

VanKuren was drawn to the administrative side of health care from a young age.

“I looked at becoming a physician,” she said, “but I came to realize that my skill set is business and analytics. I was interested in population health, business development and strategy. I saw that I could make a difference in healthcare with those skills. This field is always changing – you have an idea of what you’ll do on any given day, but it’s always changing, so you need to stay flexible and relevant in health care.”

Urschel’s path to administration grew out of her work as an acute care nurse practitioner.

“I loved caring for people,” she said. “I found great value in helping people understand their illnesses and the treatments offered.”

Urschel’s career took her to the field of cardiac and thoracic surgery and critical care. She worked as an acute care nurse practitioner caring for open heart surgery patients for many years. She was recruited to work with the chief of heart surgery to consolidate two heart surgery programs at Kaleida Health in Buffalo.

“My clinical experience provided me with the foundation for my role as an administrator and I learned that I could care for people at an aggregate level, and make a difference for many patients,” Urschel said.

Urschel worked at St. Peter’s Health Partners for more than a decade finishing her career there as VP of the Cardiac and Vascular service line before moving to Columbia Memorial Health to serve as Chief Operating Officer. She has been president and CEO there since January 2023. Throughout her career Urschel has been a professor educating Nurse Practitioners at several institutions.

“I’m excited to be chairing the Heart Walk with Jill, especially in the Centennial year of the American Heart Association,” Urschel said. “It is also important that Jill and I are chairing together. We are two CEOs from different ends of the Capital Region, representing community hospitals that provide cardiac services.”

“It’s an honor to be chairing this event with Dorothy,” VanKuren said. “It is a natural role for us, as a community hospital. We are the boots on the ground, taking the work of the American Heart Association

VanKuren grew up in Brooklyn. She has a bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University and holds an MBA in health care administration from Loyola University Maryland.

Urschel is from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. She has a master’s degree from Niagara University, a Doctorate of Nursing Practice degree from the University at Buffalo, and an MBA from the University at Albany.

There are many reasons to support the Heart Walk, ” Urschel said. “Without the type of education and the research that the American Heart Association provides, you would not have the kind of community we do, with such great health care. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America. There are so many new therapies, medications, and technologies – all of which are contributing to better cardiac outcomes and patients living longer and more meaningful lives.

“Heart disease affects every family in every corner of the earth,” VanKuren said. “We all need to participate in the solution. Being part of the Heart Walk shows that you are taking the power into your own hands. You’re doing something that makes a difference.”

The Capital Region Heart Walk and Run is set for Sunday, June 2, at the W. Averell Harriman State Office Campus. For information and to register, visit