Editor’s note: As part of the 40th anniversary of McKnight’s, McKnight’s Senior Living and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News are recognizing 40 notable newsmakers. Each week, the brands will highlight a high-profile leader from the past four decades. Find previously published installments of the series here.

To paraphrase an old television commercial, when Mary Ousley talks, people listen. 

And why not? The namesake of the American Health Care Association’s Mary K. Ousley Champion of Quality Award created a storied reputation as a brilliant clinical and regulatory tactician, starting in the 1970s. She used those qualities, along with healthy doses of toughness and persistence, to become a de facto national spokeswoman for long-term care several decades ago. And she isn’t done yet.

Originally a registered nurse by trade, Ousley (“oozely”) transitioned to facility owner and then to top management positions at several large chains, including Hillhaven, Horizon, Marriott and SunBridge.

Her indelible Eastern Kentucky accent became known at more congressional hearings and panels than anyone can recall, helping form national policy and persuade various “silos” of interest to come together on issues. That included getting AHCA and an alliance of secession-minded chains to continue as one, as well as unifying providers and governing regulators to create quality initiatives.

Only the third female AHCA board chairman when she held office, she is credited as one of the designers of the landmark Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 nursing home reform law and has mentored numerous long-term care professionals.

Among them is Neil Pruitt Jr., the president and CEO of PruittHealth, who first lured Ousley to consult on his regional chain’s corporate transformation earlier this decade. He then hired her full-time as his chief clinical officer and subsequently named her chief strategy officer. It was in the latter role that she has led the cutting-edge team that created PruittHealth Premier, the company’s institutional special needs plan, or I-SNP, among other projects.

She shows no signs of slowing down, colleagues marvel. They’re more than willing to remain all ears as long as she’s around.