Parkinson to head national assisted-living group

TOPEKA — Gov. Mark Parkinson will be heading to Washington, D.C., at the end of his term to lead a national assisted-living and nursing home advocacy group.

Parkinson's office announced Monday that after stepping down in January he will take a job as the president and CEO for the American Health Care Association & National Center for Assisted Living.

"My wife Stacy and I share a passion for this cause, and we have been fortunate to make a difference in the lives of thousands of senior citizens and their families," said Parkinson, a Democrat, in a written statement. "Upon leaving office, we assumed we would resume our business of building one nursing home at a time. Instead, I now have the opportunity to significantly increase our impact on the profession."

After leaving state politics in 1996, where he served in the Kansas House and Senate, Parkinson and his wife created a company to develop nursing homes. In 2006, he announced the sale of two assisted-living centers in Shawnee to a Tennessee group for nearly $30 million.

The governor, his wife and their daughter, Kit, will move to Washington, D.C., when his term ends, said his spokeswoman Amy Jordan Wooden.

By moving east, Parkinson is following the path of several other Kansas governors, including former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius whom he replaced when she left to be secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Former Gov. Bill Graves landed a job heading a national organization after his term expired. Graves became president and CEO of the American Trucking Association. His family had owned a trucking company in central Kansas for a number of years.

"It may be a function of the relative size of Kansas, meaning it is not a giant state, but when you are done and want to do something big, you have to leave the state," said Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty.

Beatty said he did not think the announcement would damage Parkinson's ability to accomplish any remaining goals during the rest of his term. Parkinson has said he did not plan to run for the office when he first took over in 2008.

"This obviously drives home that he is definitely not coming back, but he has to do it because you don't want rumors. I think rumors can really undermine a governor's effectiveness," Beatty said.

The nonprofit organization represents assisted-living, nursing facility, developmentally disabled and sub-acute care providers for more than 3.5 million elderly and disabled individuals annually.

"This is the perfect job for me," Parkinson said. "It combines my passion for quality elder care with my public policy experience."

Greg Crist, a spokesman for the organization, said Parkinson was selected for the post after a national interview process that included more than three dozen candidates.

Robert Van Dyk, chairman of AHCA's board of directors, said Parkinson's experience in state government and the health care industry were factors in selecting him.

"America's long-term care needs will only grow in the coming years as baby boomers age," Van Dyk said in a statement. "A policymaker who knows how Washington works and as the owner and operator of several skilled nursing and assisted living facilities, Mark will be that measured voice to speak on the elderly's behalf."