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Lenny Achan 1

Being an Artist and Seeing the World Differently is Source of Innovation for Lenny Achan, LiveOnNY President & CEO, RN, MA, ANP

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As a contemporary graffiti artist, Lenny Achan challenges convention. It’s part of his DNA–the foundation of his innovative approach to problemsolving and a key to how he looks at the world.

“Being an artist lets you understand and appreciate free thinking and not have restrictions on how you see the world and how you express yourself,” says Achan, who took over as CEO and President of LiveOnNY in November 2021.  “I have brought those elements into my executive life as an administrator, looking for things that didn’t exist, looking for opportunity, looking for the blank canvas that somebody would let me paint.”

Achan serves on the Board of Directors of the Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance (The Alliance), and the way he challenges conventional thinking was on full display in January 2024, when he presented an Advancement Series Webinar for The Alliance. The captivating and thought-provoking webinar, “Communications in Times of Change: Developing a Positive PR Strategy to Overpower Negative Media,” is also available on demand.

A native New Yorker, Achan was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. After graduating from Adelphi University, he started his career as an ICU nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in 1999 and quickly moved into leadership roles across clinical, operational, communications, and innovation responsibilities in healthcare administration.

In 2012, he co-founded a digital health company designed to improve patients’ healthcare experience through easy-to-use, real-time, digital patient engagement solutions. The company helps millions of patients a year.

“That broke the mold for me because I couldn’t find anyone to tell me that this was a good idea from 2003-2012,” says Achan. “But the company is still thriving today. That experience helped me understand that barriers will only block you if you let them. If you believe that something new and different can help people and you persist and you push through that, you will get results.

“Once I founded that company, I began to get some street credibility as an innovator. The Hospital for Special Surgery wanted to build an Innovation Institute and hire somebody who could turn that vision into a reality. They recruited me in 2016 as their Chief Innovation Officer where I was responsible for innovation and commercialization. I was able to execute dozens of successful deals over the five years and was promoted to president. I felt I had made a difference.”

COVID Brought Achan to Organ Donation

Achan took on a new, more demanding challenge in late 2021 during the pandemic, when he was recruited to lead LiveOnNY, the then-struggling organ procurement organization (OPO) that serves 13 million people in the greater New York City area and its neighboring counties.

“The COVID era changed a lot for millions of people. It made me think about the 15 or 20 hospitals I drove by every day, about the people inside –  patients and healthcare colleagues on the front lines – all of whom were suffering. I knew that my colleagues out there desperately needed help, and the community needed help as well.

“I had become a nurse and got into healthcare to serve the community. But taking on so many different administrative roles took me an arm’s distance away from patients. Covid was a disaster in New York and I began re-evaluating, thinking how I could help differently. So when I was called about the opportunity to lead LiveOnNY, it was a chance for me to be in closer proximity to people who were in need. I’ve not felt this close to patients since I was an ICU nurse. These past two years have been an incredibly rewarding experience.”

Organ Donation in NYC

Achan immediately saw new opportunities to honor the lives of New Yorkers who wanted to give the gift of life through organ donation. “Since I am from the belly of the beast, the hospitals and healthcare environment in New York City, I thought there was an opportunity for change. I realized that the city I loved, the place I was born in, the place where I had spent a quarter of a century in various roles, had one of the worst rates in the nation for organ donation.

 “Given all the misinformation, fear and ignorance about organ donation in our country, I thought if we could fill the gap and dispel the myths and urban legends and rumors about it, important life-saving change could take place.”

“New York’s a tough crowd,” says Achan. “I’m not saying that we’re special, and I’m not saying that we deserve any extra special credit. I’m just speaking about the math and the reality. And the reality is that when our staff walks into a hospital, 80 percent of the time grieving families have never even been spoken to about donation and only 20 percent of the families’ loved ones are registered donors. The barriers to entry are different – and steep – for us.”

But Achan has made impressive progress after just two years at the helm.  Since implementing a new strategic plan in 2022, LiveOnNY has increased the amount of organ donors, tissue donors, and organs transplanted by approximately 50 percent. “We’ve had to adapt with a different strategy and different tactics. Our strategy involved a lot of community engagement, especially in our communities of color.”

LiveOnNY Donor Heroes Press Release Image

Moreover, Achan adds, “We couldn’t afford to wait five or seven years to change the culture of organ donation in NYC.  One of the biggest parts of our strategy was engaging the media. The New York press corps was used to doing stories about transplant recipients. Who doesn’t like to see a person post-transplant alive and well, enjoying family weddings and graduations, swinging a golf club?  But recipients are not here without a donor. I realized that was the gap and said let’s go back to why OPOs were created and let’s honor our donors. And it worked. The six billion unpaid media views we achieved are virtually all for our donors and their families, all to rewrite and create a legacy for them.”

If They Had Said ‘No’

Achan says he’s very involved with donor families that LiveOnNY engages with for media coverage or other public awareness events. “If there’s somebody who wants to engage in any way with the public, I manage that with our staff.  I also stay close to and speak regularly with our donor families. I am the one to call each donor family to let them know how many lives their loved ones saved after transplantation has been completed – and hopefully help provide solace and a path for healing. It is humbling work.

“When we listen to our families, we listen to the fact that they were among the 80% who knew nothing about donation before tragedy struck and said “Yes.” Instead of saying that their son was shot five times leaving a Police Athletic League basketball game, a victim of a gang initiation, they get to tell the story of their son saving five lives.

Donor Hero and NYC Firefighter Billy Moon’s heart now beats inside grateful recipient Richard Grehl. The two families met for the first time during an emotional reunion hosted by LiveOnNY on Nov 9, 2023.

“The thing that stands out the most when we sit in the room and we listen to families is how often they say they don’t know what they would have done with their lives if they had said ‘No’ to donation.  I have donor families who continue to say to me, ‘This saved my life. I’m alive today because of that legacy.’   It took me at least a year of sitting in the room and listening before I heard that it was true, whether it was a baby, a young child, an adolescent, or an elderly person who passed and gave the gift of life.  No matter what race, color, creed, or religion, it was true. That is the biggest thing that I’ve taken away and that really shapes and forms the way I think strategically about what we need to do and how we need to communicate.”

Strong Work Ethic

Looking back on his career, Achan says challenging convention, breaking through barriers and learning to accept setbacks along the way has served him well. “You’ve got to break a lot of eggs to make an omelet when you’re an innovator. I was willing to do that. I was willing to go through the cycles because I treated it like an education, and I wanted to learn more each time.”

His grounding in these values began early. Achan says his parents – who came to New York as immigrantsinstilled a strong work ethic in him and his two sisters. He remembers going to get his working papers when he was 14. That led him to work in a T-shirt printing shop in Manhattan where he met prominent graffiti artists. “They showed me that you could do shows and be in galleries and paint on canvases. I got a very early start, being invited into a gallery show and putting my art on a painting that sold.” Achan says he still paints on canvas but also creates molds and does 3D printing.  Art is his ‘yoga’—it is how he relaxes after a long week.

Achan also appreciates the support he’s received from OPO leaders across the country. “The OPO community and leadership have been very gracious and welcoming to me coming into the field,” he said.  “There has never been a circumstance where if I needed something, they’ve not gotten back to me right away. That sense of community is uplifting.”

Proud of New York and LiveOnNY Team

Lastly, Achan is very proud of New Yorkers, calling them “one of the most generous communities on the planet.”  Despite its reputation of being a tough and difficult city and a logistical nightmare, “when things hit the fan in New York, New Yorkers step up.  I’m also incredibly proud of our tireless staff and team at LiveOnNY. They’ve been working under the pressure of high-performance expectations while dealing with organizational change. They’ve also been able to achieve what they have in a very resistant setting.

LiveOnNY Staff Crains Best Places To Work
Lenny Achan and LiveOnNY staff celebrate second year of recognition as a Crain’s Magazine “Best Place to Work” in NYC.

“We all take pride in being able to give the opportunity to grieving families we approach in the hospitals and say: ‘You can make a difference to somebody,  to generations.  Would you be willing to donate and help others live on and help your family member’s legacy live on?’  And when they say yes, it gives everyone who works at LiveOnNY a feeling of great pride  – a reminder why it is a privilege to be part of this noble and unique mission.”

Achan, 47, lives with his wife, Kim, a speech therapist, their two teenage children, and their Staffordshire Terrier, Luna, on Long Island.  

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