Profile — Speaking up for LTC: Mary Ousley, President, Ousley & Associates
Combining passion for the industry with a talent for oratory, Mary Ousley has long been known as a seminal voice of long-term care.Having testified before Congress at least 10 times, hosted countless workshops and served as a policy advocate with the American Health Care Association, it may be said she is not shy about expressing her opinions. And just because she is gradually scaling back her industry involvement to spend more time with family doesn't mean you will hear any less from her. She remains active professionally as a consultant, serving on various boards and committees and her schedule, which includes regular trips to the nation's capital, would challenge the busiest executive.
"I'm doing the same thing I always have – helping corporations to think about strategic planning, creating a vision for the future and how to get there," the 61-year-old declares in a Southern drawl, native to her hometown of Richmond, KY. "I'm very pleased that there are young CEOs out there who want to take advantage of my experience."
Decades ago, her experience took her from registered nurse to owner and operator of an independent nursing home. She later advanced to top management positions at several large national chains, including Hillhaven, Horizon, Marriott and SunBridge. She became involved on the policy side through AHCA's Kentucky chapter, working her way up to president of the state association in 1987. It was right around that time that the landmark OBRA regulations were proposed and Ousley became one of its principal designers.
While OBRA '87 had more than its share of critics when it was created 20 years ago, Ousley ("ooze-ly") still believes it is a sound, necessary policy and is proud of the role she played with it.
"At that time there needed to be a greater focus on quality services in America's nursing homes," she said. "I believe now as I did then that the majority of nursing homes were doing a good job, but there were many aspects we weren't accomplishing – specifically a comprehensive assessment that considers a resident's complete history and translates it into a plan of care."
Julie Trocchio, senior director of long-term care for the Catholic Health Association, served on the planning team with Ousley and attests to her genuine talent for communication.
"She is one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject of nursing home quality and she has the ability to relate those very complex issues," Trocchio said. "She is always happy to talk with consumer groups and government officials to help advance the cause. She never gets ruffled – she always answers questions with a great deal of confidence and truthfulness."
Ousley's healthcare career came about in a circuitous way. Her collegiate studies postponed by a serious bout with toxoplasmosis, she spent nearly a year in the hospital. While there, she became interested in nursing and pursued a degree. She entered the long-term care field in 1979, investing in a skilled facility.
The passion she exudes as spokeswoman for the industry can be traced to her early days as an administrator, when she encountered a 93-year-old resident named Hazel.
"I loved spending time with her – I saw her every day," she said. "She told me so many interesting stories about her life and it made me realize what great value seniors bring to our society."
A native of Coeburn, VA, Ousley is the youngest of four children. She has five daughters and 11 grandchildren. She credits her father as the one who gave her the knack for public speaking and passion for advocacy. Ed Gilbert left school at age 17 to work in a coal mine and eventually became national safety director for the United Mineworkers.
"Throughout his career he was devoted to the safety of miners – he understood that they had a hard life," she said. "He once gave a speech to a crowd of 30,000 at a miners' convention. I've never done that."
When her father died at age 75, Ousley heard from the throngs who attended his funeral, with many sharing stories about something he had done to improve their lives. Shortly after burying her father, Ousley's mother died from liver cancer.
"My father taught me how to live with dignity and my mother taught me how to die with dignity," she said.
Mary Ousley's Resume
1963 - Enrolls at Eastern Kentucky University after being hospitalized from a severe case of toxoplasmosis
1979 - Invests in a Lawrenceburg, KY-based skilled nursing facility – the official launch of her career in long-term care
1987 - Starts three-year term as president of the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities. Becomes an advisory provider representative for OBRA '87
1991 - Joins Hillhaven as corporate director of professional services
2004 - Invited to serve as the long-term care representative on the Joint Commission's Board of Commissioners
2007 - Testifies before Congress about impact of OBRA '87 on long-term care