Profile: Ruth Katz, Prone to Make It Happen

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Ruth Katz, SVP Public Policy LeadingAge
Ruth Katz, SVP Public Policy LeadingAge

Ruth Katz SVP Public Policy LeadingAge

Her “unofficial career” in public policy service began when a girlfriend at her New Jersey junior high coaxed her into volunteer work for residents with developmental disabilities at a nearby state institution.

She was smitten with the advocacy bug that would shape her next four decades of service for nonprofit associations. She's served under five administrations and held influential roles in the healthcare reform movements of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Today, Ruth Katz's fingerprints are on practically every significant long-term care bill, policy or rule regarding intellectual disability. She is known in equal parts along the Beltway as coalition builder, policy influencer and advocate — things that will serve her well in the next chapter of her life as the senior vice president for public policy for LeadingAge.

Her nearly three decades as a policy analyst and long-term care advocate at Health and Human Services “went by in a flash” as she directed policy research and analysis at several internal agencies while advising on national-level programs and policies. Though politics were polarizing, she learned there was a common ground to be found in nearly every policy she touched.

As recently as early 2017, she played a key role in developing the details on what became a strong bipartisan congressional request for $2 billion in new mental health and opioid prevention spending in President Trump's budget. 

She believes her career has been as equally shaped by her notable and numerous successes — including a presidential advisory council on Alzheimer's and the creation of a Division of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities Policy in ASPE — as from the failures she's endured, such as the rise and fall of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act.

Hugely successful, yet “always on” people like her usually get that way by striking a balance between work and play. 

Now 64, Katz says she finds a special passion in physical exercise. She says she has long been semi-regularly “planking” (lying prone) to maintain core strength and has hundreds of photos of herself planking in places as diverse as Turkey and in front of the White House Christmas tree — as well as her own planking Facebook group — to show for it.

She also has toyed with a humorously healing idea to write a cookbook tentatively titled “It's Not Just Lasagna or Chicken” as one way to get people to be more creative when making home-cooked meals for terminally ill friends or family members. She loves to read and bake cakes herself (but doesn't eat them) and makes many of her own clothes.

She is married to a former international aid worker who is now with the Peace Corps and plays multiple instruments in rock and bluegrass bands. Her son teaches music in Spanish at a Washington, D.C., charter school, sings and plays drums and other instruments in the same bands.

She grew up in Cranford, NJ, and has two brothers (both accomplished, left-handed engineers, she notes). Proud of her career as a civil servant, she says she is now eager to work closer to the real beneficiaries of her efforts — LeadingAge members who rely on the impactful advocacy work the organization does.

Resume

1975 Earns B.S. degree in Education from Case Western Reserve University

1980 Completes M.S. in Education from George Washington University

1983 Becomes assistant executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services

1989 Named deputy director of what is now called the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities

1990 Becomes policy analyst at the HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Office of Disability, Aging and LongTerm Care Policy

1995-2000 Named director, division of aging and disability

2000-2018 Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary at Health and Human Services

2018 Named Senior Vice President, Public Policy for LeadingAge, Washington, D.C.