Organizations serving those working in the long-term care industry are offering praise for the efforts of Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as she steps down from the post, and they also are looking to the future.
“Secretary Sebelius has served at a time when the Department of Health and Human Services has faced enormous public and political scrutiny,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), tells Long-Term Living. “She has proven herself an adept leader, leading the implementation of many programs that have improved access to important health programs for millions of Americans.”
Before joining ACHA/NCAL, Parkinson succeeded Sebelius as governor of Kansas when she was named to the HHS post. Among the federal government entities Sebelius oversaw as HHS secretary were the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.
How people in “the sunset of life” are treated is the part of the “moral test of government,” Sebelius said today at a White House Rose Garden event during which President Barack Obama publicly announced her resignation and his nomination of Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace her. Her comment referred to a remark made by former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, after whom the HHS headquarters building is named.
Sebelius listed gains made in caring for seniors and others during her tenure as HHS secretary, including the implementation of the controversial Affordable Care Act (ACA), designed to make health insurance accessible for every American. She faced scrutiny for glitches in the website through which people could enroll in the program, but “this is the most meaningful work I’ve ever been a part of; in fact, it’s been the cause of my life,” she said.
“I have no doubt she will be successful in anything she does from this point forward,” Parkinson says.
Larry Minnix, president and CEO of LeadingAge, tells Long-Term Living: “We appreciate Secretary Sebelius’s commitment to older Americans and the field of aging services, and in particular her willingness to work across agencies to address the need for long-term services and supports and integrated housing plus services for seniors.”
LeadingAge looks forward to “continuing this important work with the next HHS secretary,” he adds.
Charlotte Eliopoulos, RN, MPH, PhD, executive director of the American Association for Long Term Care Nursing, says she was not surprised by Sebelius’ resignation.
"Although she was not solely responsible for the significant problems with the rollout of the ACA, she most likely would always have that experience associated with her leadership which would dilute her ongoing effectiveness," she tells Long-Term Living. "A new secretary perhaps can aid in lifting the cloud and affecting necessary changes."
Eliopoulos says she hopes that Sebelius' replacement "will enter with the learned experience of the importance of carefully thinking through laws before passing and attempting to implement them, assuring statements offered are valid, and monitoring implementation activities to avoid unnecessary business disruption, consumer stress and costly mistakes. One only wonders how the same government who created such problems would react if they surveyed a long-term care facility that demonstrated such weak operational standards."