Partner Profile: A Conversation with Hillary Holes

October 15, 2019

October 15, 2019

The Health Care Improvement Foundation’s (HCIF) Partner Profiles highlight the efforts of valued and innovative health leaders. Our partners’ work supports HCIF’s vision for a responsive, coordinated health care community that fulfills the needs of patients and consumers to achieve better health.

Hillary Holes, Director, Health Equity, Healthcare Council of Western Pennsylvania (HCWP), leads Pennsylvania Health Literacy Coalition efforts in the Western half of the Commonwealth. Since 2014, HCWP and HCIF have collaborated to create a culture of health literacy in Pennsylvania. Join Hillary at the Western Pennsylvania Health Literacy Event on October 25—register now!

How did you become interested in health literacy?

My first job after college was as the Performance Improvement Coordinator in the Quality Department at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). I encountered the term “health literacy” for the first time while working on quality improvement projects in this role. Our patients were at risk for outcomes associated with low health literacy. I got to witness this firsthand and work with clinic staff to brainstorm ways to better communicate with patients. My colleagues, supervisors, and even the patients taught me so much.

What is one thing you think people should know about health literacy?

Health literacy knows no boundaries when it comes to who is impacted. Judgment and stigma are not to be taken lightly when dealing with health literacy. Never judge individuals just on the way they look, or the way they are acting in a situation. You can’t tell by looking if someone will struggle to understand health information.

What are your greatest accomplishments within your field so far?

When I joined HCWP in 2017, I took over the 10 Attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organizations Workgroup. This group developed a resource, Delivering Health Literate Care: A Quick Reference Guide, which has since been shared with hospitals across Pennsylvania. There were times while working on this project that I questioned whether we could get it done; having the final product in hand and disseminating it widely has exceeded all my expectations!

If you could motivate people in your field to tackle one issue or address one challenge, what would it be?

It would be to work with their organization on updating education materials that they are giving to the public. This can be time-consuming, but that is okay. The most important things are that the information is easily understood by everyone, doesn’t use jargon, and is engaging enough that it doesn’t get immediately thrown in the trash by the patient.

What have you found most valuable about working with HCIF? What’s something you’ve learned from our partnership?

I learned everything I know about health literacy from the amazing staff at HCIF, and everything that I have learned from working with HCIF has been valuable. It is such a great partnership that I look forward to continuing.


If you’re looking for a heartfelt book to dive into this fall, Hillary recommends The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It’s her favorite, and she tries to read it at least once a year. Seeking a fall adventure? Try Laguna Beach, California—the weather, wineries, restaurants, and views are to die for! You can connect with Hillary via email or on LinkedIn.

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