Mary Wakefield was raised in rural North Dakota, became a nurse and nurse educator, entered politics and worked as chief of staff for two United States Senators from North Dakota, then went on to a lead health policy research center at George Mason University. She returned to North Dakota in 2001 to become an assistant dean and professor at University of North Dakota. In 2009 she was named administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) by President Barack Obama in February 2009, where she has administered key parts of the Affordable Health Care Act. Most recently, she was selected to serve as Acting United States Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services.
She is a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing and was elected to the Institute of Medicine, and has served on committees advising Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, HRSA’s Office of Rural Health Policy, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Education and early life
Wakefield is a native of Devils Lake, North Dakota She has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Mary in Bismarck and master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing from the University of Texas at Austin.
A request for a summer internship in 1987 led to a position as a legislative assistant for health matters for Senator Quentin Burdick (D-ND), who later made her chief of staff. After Burdick's death in 1992, she worked for a month as a consultant for the Global Programme on AIDS at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, then took the position of chief of staff for Senator Kent Conrad, which she held until 1996. Her Senate duties included co-chairing the Senate Rural Health Caucus Staff Organization with Sheila Burke, who was also a nurse and was chief of staff for Senator Bob Dole, from 1987 to 1992.
In 1996 she returned to academia and served as professor and director of the Center for Health Policy, Research, and Ethics at George Mason University. In 2001 she returned to North Dakota as the associate dean for rural health at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and director of the Center for Rural Health at UND's School of Medicine and Health Sciences. At UND, Dr. Wakefield also was director of the Rural Assistance Center, a HRSA-funded source of information on rural health and social services for researchers, policymakers, program managers, project officers and the general public. She was a superdelegate at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
She was named administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) by President Barack Obama in February 2009. The agency has a budget of $7.5 billion agency that distributes funding across some 3,000 grants spanning 80 programs, and received an additional $2.5B under the Affordable Care Act.
As the administrator of HRSA, she oversaw the approximately 1,100 federally supported community care clinics that serve people without health insurance or who are under-insured; she oversaw the disbursement of $150 million in funding to those clinics under the Affordable Care Act to help people enroll in the program, and another $250 million in competitive grant funding to build new community care clinics and increase services. She also administered the disbursement of $55.5 million in grants to increase the nurse and dentistry workforces.
Nomination as Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services
On July 9, 2015 President Obama nominated Wakefield to be the United States Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services after the departure of Bill Corr. On July 13, 2015 her nomination was sent to the United States Senate. Her nomination is currently pending before the United States Senate Committee on Finance.
She served on the Institute of Medicine (IoM) committee that produced the report, To Err is Human in 1999, and Crossing the Quality Chasm in 2001. She also co-chaired the IOM committee that produced the 2003 report Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality, and chaired the committee that produced the 2005 report Quality Through Collaboration: The Future of Rural Health Care (2005).
In addition, she was a member of President Clinton’s Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry from 1997 to 1998, served on the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission from 1999 to 2004, and was appointed a member of the National Advisory Committee to HRSA’s Office of Rural Health Policy in 1999. She served a three-year term as a member of the National Advisory Council for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality from 2001 to 2004.
- Philip Rucker for the Washington Post. Feb 20, 2009 Obama Presidency Cast of Characters: Mary Wakefield Picked as HRSA Chief
- Noel Brinkerhoff for AllGov. June 22, 2010 Health Resources and Services Administration: Who is Mary Wakefield?
- Beth Blevins for the Rural Monitor. February 28, 2008. 2008 Interview with Mary Wakefield
- George Washington University Nursing Program Mary Wakefield Biography
- Citizen Advocacy Center Biography of Mary Wakefield
- Washington Post. January 14, 2008 Democratic Super Delegates
- Official Biography at HRSA Page accessed Feb 28, 2015
- Tom Sullivan for Government Health IT. September 13, 2012 HIMSS Federal Policy Leader Award: HRSA head Mary Wakefield
- Jennifer Corbett Dooren for the Wall Street Journal. July 10, 2013 Community Clinics Get ‘Obamacare’ Grants
- Darryl Fears for the Washington Post August 18, 2010 Health centers to get $250 million in grants to build clinics, boost services
- Josh Hicks for the Washington Post. December 6, 2013 Obama administration awards $55 million to boost health-care workforce
- "President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts", White House, July 9, 2015
- "Presidential Nomination Sent to the Senate", White House, July 13, 2015
- Hatch to Hold Nominations Hearing, United States Senate Committee on Finance, January 29, 2016
- Institute of Medicine. Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality
- Institute of Medicine. Quality Through Collaboration: The Future of Rural Health Care (2005)
- Nurses.com February 7, 2001 Mary Wakefield Appointed to National Advisory Council
- GAO. May 20, 2004 Comptroller General Walker Announces Appointment of Members to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission