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RN Tavenner wins Senate approval to head CMS


Marilyn Tavenner, a onetime staff nurse, officially was confirmed Wednesday as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Tavenner, RN, BSN, MHA, overwhelmingly received the approval of the U.S. Senate in a 91-7 vote. She had been CMS acting administrator since President Obama nominated her to replace Donald Berwick, MD, who stepped down as acting administrator in December 2011.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes CMS, said Tavenner is the first nominee to be confirmed as CMS administrator in more than nine years.

As she has done as acting administrator, Tavenner will oversee Medicare and Medicaid, which provide healthcare to a third of Americans. She also will play a central role in implementing the Affordable Care Act, the core measures of which take effect in 2014.

“I think one of the things that is so critical about how nurses view the world is that you are looking at how do you get everybody involved in the process, whether it’s family, whether it’s staff,” Tavenner said in a February 2012 article on She said she encourages discussion and is open to hearing all sides, but once a decision is made, “we all move forward together.”

Tavenner, 61, began her healthcare career as an ICU nurse in Virginia, including at Chippenham Hospital in Richmond, after earning her BSN from Virginia Commonwealth University. She spent most of her time in nursing practice working for the Hospital Corporation of America. She steadily rose through the ranks of the company, working as a nurse supervisor and in other supervisory roles, and in 1993 became CEO of Johnston-Willis Hospital in Richmond.

By 2004, she was president of outpatient services for the company at the national level. But she was not done advancing up the ladder. In 2006, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine appointed Tavenner the state’s secretary of health and human resources. In that position she oversaw 12 agencies that employed more than 18,000 people, including the departments of Health, Mental Health, Social Services, Health Professionals and Medical Assistance Services.

From there, Tavenner moved to CMS and was acting administrator from February 2010 until Berwick’s recess appointment in July 2010. “I can’t really say I ever had this idea I would be in the federal government,” Tavenner said in the February 2012 article. “It’s just like one job led to the other.”

Although Berwick was Obama’s first choice to head CMS, he was seen as a more divisive figure politically. Tavenner, meanwhile, engendered more good will. During the confirmation process, senators on both sides of the aisle lauded her breadth of experience in healthcare.

The American Nurses Association endorsed Tavenner’s candidacy earlier this year. “We at ANA believe that her expertise and experience will provide CMS with the leadership needed to guide our healthcare system during this time of great change,” ANA President Karen A. Daley, RN, PhD, FAAN, said in a statement.

Read more about Tavenner’s career in the February 2012 story:


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