Health policy powerhouse

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Kathleen Wilson, Deputy Director, Division of Nursing Homes, CMS
Kathleen Wilson, Deputy Director, Division of Nursing Homes, CMS
When she was 19, Kathleen Wilson received a phone call from her mother, asking her to drive from her college in Fairfield, CT, and spend a week with her dying grandmother. Wilson dropped what she was doing and proceeded to drive through the streets of New York City to get to her family.

“I grew up in a time with multiple generations in a house, and my grandmother grew up with us,” Wilson says. She spent her childhood in an Italian neighborhood in northwest Boston. “I was raised by family caregivers where it was everyone's responsibility to care for everyone else.”

That formative experience has stuck in Wilson's mind through her career in health policy, which started with the American Institute of Ultrasound Medicine and now lands at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. After many years as a director at the American Medical Directors Association, Wilson started as CMS' Division of Nursing Homes' deputy director in December.

The 48-year-old had been at AMDA since 1998, stopping only to finish her dissertation on ultrasounds at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Although her doctoral class load was tough, “I stuck with it,” she says. “I can never say enough about how valuable that thought process was and how it helped me at AMDA.”

Wilson's dissertation advisor described her as bright, disciplined and inquisitive. Cheryl M. Miller, Ph.D., UMBC's Associate Dean in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, says she was especially impressed with Wilson's ability to juggle her job and family while working on her doctoral degree.

“She's a great example of someone going back to school to become all that they can be,” Miller says. “You love to see your students do well. She has talent and drive and a commitment to health policy. There's no task that she'll take on that she won't do a bang-up job with.”

Those jobs, in Wilson's spare time, have included being a Girl Scout leader. She was named Outstanding Leader for the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland in 2003. They also include making gourmet meals for her family (she scours Cooking Light), which includes husband Don, son Ryan, 20, and daughter Sam, 18.

An avid Red Sox fan, she walks twice a day with her 3-year-old yellow Labrador Beckett (named after renowned Sox pitcher Josh Beckett).

She says she's been described as a “ball of fire” and that people have said to her, “I can't believe you wake up this happy.” And she loves to laugh.

“Jackie Vance (AMDA's director of clinical affairs) and I think we're the two funniest people on the face of the earth,” she notes, although she adds, “my kids don't think I'm funny at all.”

While she was sad to leave colleagues such as Vance behind, Wilson says she's excited about the challenges ahead at CMS.

“I was raised to believe in the value of hard work and from what I've seen, the people there work really hard,” she says.

“I hope to take what I've learned from AMDA's members to do work on a national level, and I hope what I've learned can complement what my future colleagues are doing.”

Resume

1989
Receives master's degree from Fairfield University in Connecticut in political and corporate communications

1990
Named director of government affairs, public relations and publications at the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine

2003
Completes Ph.D. at University of Maryland, Baltimore County

2004
Returns to the American Medical Directors Association as a consultant and director of government affairs

2005
Becomes policy analyst/long-term care consultant for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services nursing home branch

2008
Joins an American Health Care Association and AMDA work group on verbal orders

December 2011
Starts as CMS Division of Nursing Homes' deputy director