Outstanding Directors 2023: Dan Abdul

Outstanding Directors 2023: Dan Abdul

For board service to CentraCare (2022-present)

Other board service

Ecumen (2020-present)

Mental Health Connect (2014-21)

Genesys Works (2014-18)

Dan Abdul’s training as a flight medic for the U.S. Army taught him how to provide health care in a crisis. But it was a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder that helped him see the inextricable connections between physical health and mental health. As a board leader serving St. Cloud-based health system CentraCare and several other health-oriented organizations, Abdul has continually put mental health front and center.

A native of Nigeria, Abdul moved to the United States with his mother when he was 16, shortly after his father had died. When he turned 18, he joined the Minnesota National Guard and enlisted in the U.S. Army. After completing training, he earned his degree in computer science from the University of Minnesota in 1999. He had considered a career in medicine but found himself drawn to computers and programming. “Chemistry and I have irreconcilable differences, so I knew I wasn’t going to be a physician,” Abdul jokes. Coding, though, “just clicked.”

After he completed his undergrad degree, Abdul took a job as a technology engineer at Target Corp., where he got firsthand experience with what he calls “foundational” tech tools. A few years into that job, he went on to graduate school in software engineering, earning his master’s from the University of St. Thomas in 2004.

Around that time, Abdul was set to be deployed to Afghanistan, but fate intervened. Before departing, he initially went to backfill a unit in Texas, where he was seriously injured in a vehicle accident that left him in a coma for five days. It ultimately led to a medical retirement from the Army.

Though he had two degrees in hand, Abdul was hungry for more knowledge, particularly in the realm of business strategy, and in 2009, he earned an MBA from his original alma mater, the U of M. Abdul credits his parents for the strong pull of higher education. “It was never really a question around if we were going to college,” Abdul says. “The conversation was more around how many post-graduate degrees we were going to have.”

While Abdul’s days in the armed forces had ended, he felt driven to serve in other ways. In late 2010, he began working as chief information officer for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, a post he held for about three years. In 2014, he got his first board seat, when St. Paul-based nonprofit Genesys Works, which provides employment services for youth from underserved communities, asked Abdul to join its board. He served for about five years.

That same year, Abdul co-founded a nonprofit known as Mental Health Connect, a Minneapolis-based organization that seeks to improve access to mental health resources. Abdul served on the board for nearly eight years.

In 2016, Abdul took a job as vice president of commercial technology services with Minnetonka-based health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group. A little more than a year into the job, he was promoted to senior vice president and chief technology officer of the Enterprise Data Group at the company. In July 2020, Abdul landed a job with a similar title at Medica, where he’s been employed ever since.

Abdul’s depth of experience in technology and health care has made him an in-demand board member. When St. Cloud-based health system CentraCare had a board opening, leadership turned to Abdul. “We had a choice of many different candidates,” says Steve Laraway, board chair. “Dan quickly rose to the top.” Abdul joined the CentraCare board in 2022 and currently serves on the governance committee. Two years earlier, Abdul also joined the board of Ecumen, a Shoreview-based provider of senior housing and care.

“As a director, Dan hit the ground running,” Laraway adds. “He asks great questions and contributes to the meetings thoughtfully. Many times, we have relied on his expertise, and he is helpful and insightful.”

Dr. Kenneth Holmen, CentraCare’s president and CEO, says Abdul brings a “tremendous skill set” to the health system’s board. “Dan’s role at Medica allows him to understand the interface between the payer function and the care delivery aspects of health care,” Holmen says. That also enables Abdul to understand the complexity of paying for things like mental health care, an area for which both coverage and care lag behind traditional physical health care.

More than anything, though, Abdul has been an engaged, curious board member who “shows up prepared,” Holmen says.

Abdul says it’s all part of his mission to achieve “true parity between mental and physical health.”

“They’re not really two different things,” he notes. “Health care providers have to address them as one and the same.”

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