New at the Top

New at the top: Mark Parkinson's accidental career

(Orlin Wagner)
  Enlarge Photo    
Monday, March 14, 2011

I've had an unconventional career path and it's because I have really lived by the notion that a person should really do what they have a passion for, not necessarily what will bring them money or prestige.

In an odd kind of way my wife and I have experienced financial success and a level of notoriety but it's all because we followed our dreams.

My wife and I are both attorneys and practiced law from 1984 to 1996. I was also in the state senate in Kansas in the early 1990s.

I had once volunteered at a hospice, spending time with people in the last six months of their lives.

During that experience, I was able to see that many of the settings that existed for people toward the end of their lives were not that great but I didn't know what to do about it.

Then around 1995, I toured an assisted-living facility, which provided an environment for older people that was much more homelike than it was institutional.

When I walked into that assisted-living facility, I thought "This could revolutionize the care of older people in this country."

My wife and I fell in love with what we saw. We quit practicing law and I actually left the senate so that we could build an assisted-living community and operate it.

I think a lot of people thought that we had lost our minds. We didn't just own the facility, we worked in it. We helped the aides provide breakfast to our residents and we took them out on activities. It was really something that we loved doing.

We liked it so much that we eventually built six facilities including some nursing homes.

In 2006, one of the larger providers in our industry had heard about some of the innovative things that we were doing and purchased us with an agreement asking us to build more facilities for them.

I had stayed in touch with public service during the time I was operating these facilities with my wife, Stacey. Shortly after we sold, then-governor of Kansas Kathleen Sebelius asked if I could run with her as her lieutenant governor. We had just sold our facilities and it seemed like a good time.

I did that thinking I would serve four years as lieutenant governor and then come back to operating our nursing home facilities but the president asked her to come to Washington and that made me governor.

I served as governor for a couple of years still thinking that I would go back to developing elder care facilities when the American Health Care Association called and asked if I was interested in leading the organization.

I studied the situation and it looked very much along the lines of what Stacey and I were trying to do.

We are trying to change the way that older people are treated toward the end of their lives.

I really felt like this position allowed us to do that on a big scale. I accepted the job and am very happy to be here working.

-Interview with Vanessa Mizell

Mark Parkinson

Position: President and chief executive of American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living in the District.

Career highlights: Governor of Kansas; Lieutenant Governor of Kansas; Senator, Kansas Senate; Representative, Kansas House of Representatives; attorney, Parkinson, Foth & Orrick.

Age: 53

Education: BS political science, Wichita State University; JD, University of Kansas School of Law.

Personal: He resides in Potomac, Md. with his wife Stacy, 51 and their three children.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company