From Houston's Fifth Ward to Harvard Medical School and beyond

A Houston doctor who started seeing a trend among her sick patients realized something as simple as healthy eating could change their lives. In true Positively Houston form, she did something about it. 

"So they can improve their health and prevent disease," explains Dr. Ann Barnes who is Chief Medical Executive at Harris Health System. But before holding that title, she was a girl growing up in Houston’s Fifth Ward with quite a career objective while in catholic grade school. 

"The nuns asked everybody what they wanted to be when they grew up. I said I wanted to be a cheerleader, a cash register lady and a doctor," laughs Dr. Barnes.  


Fortunately for Houston, Dr. Barnes completed Harvard Medical School becoming the third thing on that list, getting her start as a young physician at Ben Taub Hospital. 

"I would hear people yell 'Dr. Ann, is that you?' and they were members from my church growing up and recognized me from childhood." 

Soon Dr. Barnes started to recognize something. 

"A lot of our patients were presenting with the same constellation of symptoms. High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol," Dr. Barnes explains, pointing out ailments that can be cured with healthy eating. 

"Yes, food has a critical role to play in healthcare," but she knew many of her patients didn’t have access to fresh food.

So she started a program taking farmers markets to clinics and food deserts. 

"It really is to help people live to their full potential. In order for someone to live their fullest life, they have to feel good and I have seen a lot of people who’ve had illness kind of take over."

Dr. Barnes began her new role just before COVID hit, "so a lot of getting acquainted with this new leadership role has been how do you navigate through a crisis." 


She heads Harris Health System physicians, which includes Ben Taub and LBJ Hospitals. 

"We also work with Baylor College of Medicine and University of Texas McGovern School of Medicine as our physician partners." 

She’s helping make Harris County residents healthier by prescribing certain patients to pick up their prescription in the Food Pharmacy. 

"Where they actually go and shop for healthy foods with the guidance of our patient educators."

Up next? Dr. Barnes will work on what she calls the social determinants of health. 

"Income, education, social connectedness, employment are all critically important in influencing a person’s ability to be healthy and I would like to see Harris Health really engage in how we can be a good partner in beginning to address some of those larger issues."

For all the youngsters who are where she once was, a kiddo in Fifth Ward dreaming of what’s she’s doing now. 

"Hold on to your dreams and listen to your heart, seek out individuals who will be encouraging," smiles Dr. Barnes. 

She is certainly an encouraging individual, who believes success isn’t measured by what you achieve yourself, but also by what you do for others.