Profile: Kathy Greenlee - Not in Kansas anymore

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Kathy Greenlee
Kathy Greenlee

Meet Kathy Greenlee. She is the new head of the Administration on Aging and would like providers to know her better.

“I feel that my role, my policy role, as the assistant secretary for aging, is to speak on behalf of the needs of seniors, regardless of setting,” offers Greenlee, who has been crisscrossing the country formally introducing herself to various stakeholders.

Some of you may have seen her speak at the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging in November.

As the former secretary of aging for Kansas, she arguably knows seniors' issues pretty well.

Her main goals at the Department of Health and Human Services are to strengthen the core programs at the Administration on Aging, which include nutrition services, supportive services. services to Native American Tribes, and work on elder rights and justice.

“I hope when I leave I can turn around and say we're good at administering programs at the Administration on Aging—that the administration is a strong and well-respected public agency working on behalf of seniors,” she says.

She also has distinct thoughts about long-term care and wants to expand home- and community-based services. A proponent of culture change in nursing homes, she says she wants to advance a more holistic approach to nursing home care.

Some who worked with her in Kansas believe there is no better person for the top job at AoA. She is well-rounded as a result of her various roles, including general counsel at the Kansas Insurance Department and long-term care ombudsman. She also has an ability to bring all different sides to the table to talk about various issues, they say.

“She's always been a visionary leader and somebody that the states have looked up to, I think,” says Martha Roherty, executive director at the National Association of State Units on Aging.

Another strong supporter Annette Graham, executive director of the Central Plains Area Agency on Aging, credits Greenlee with helping facilitate the passage of a mental health bill and securing dental services under a HCBS Medicaid waiver.

Adds State Rep. Bob Bethell: “I think she just models exactly what we need in client-resident services.”

Greenlee regularly visits several local senior services in the D.C. area to stay in touch with seniors, she says. She also loves to travel and plays golf (not very well, she is quick to note) in her spare time.

Being an advocate is just who she is, Greenlee explains. Growing up in Clearwater, KS, a town of 1,800, near Wichita, she says her parents could never keep ice cream in the house because she would invite people over to share it. Her father owned a glass company and her mother is a microbiologist. She also has a sister.

In speeches, Greenlee frequently speaks of her late great aunt. Verda Nickerson was a fiercely independent woman who lived in her home in Clearwater until nearly the end of her life, thanks to the support of the community.

Greenlee tells the story, she says, because it is universal.

“People want to be themselves and be supported and that's the common thread,” she says. “Aging is a unifying topic and people want pretty much the same thing.”


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Resume

1985
Graduates with bachelor's degree in administration from the University of Kansas

1988
Receives J.D. from Kansas University School of Law

1992
Works as assistant attorney general in the Consumer Protection Division in Topeka

1999
Serves as general counsel at the Kansas Insurance Department

2003
Named assistant secretary of aging at the Kansas Department of Aging. Also serves as legislative liaison and chief budget officer

2004
Takes position as state long-term care ombudsman in Kansas

2006
Appointed Kansas secretary of aging

2009
Confirmed by the U.S. Senate as fourth assistant secretary for aging at the Department of Health and Human Services