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 new, high-profile leader from the past four decades. Previously published installments of the series are posted here.

OBRA ’87, the landmark federal law that greatly enhanced the regulation of nursing homes, marked a turning point for long-term care. Paul Willging, Ph.D., who led the American Health Care Association when OBRA ’87 took effect, helped the field transition to this new era of federal oversight.

Willging, now deceased, is among those who have been “the right people at the right time in the evolution of the sector and association,” commented industry veteran Steve Chies, who is president of North Cities Health Care in Coon Rapids, MN, and a former AHCA board chairman.

Although the sector could have mounted a fierce resistance against the legislation, “Willging convinced us this was a good thing and where things should be moving,” said Chies, who at the time served on several task forces organized by Willging to help members understand how to move forward. “He was pushing rather than waiting for something to happen.”

Following the implementation of the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1987 in 1990, Willging was instrumental in helping the field pivot to an outcomes-based measurement of quality, said Dave Kyllo, vice president of insurance and member programs at AHCA and the National Center for Assisted Living.

“That’s the way we now strive for quality,” said Kyllo, who during Willging’s tenure was just starting his career at AHCA. “At the time, it was brand new.”

Willging, who had served as the deputy administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration (now the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) before joining AHCA, left his imprint in other ways. Among them was the creation of NCAL, now a significant advocacy group.

Considered personable and a strong communicator, Willging did not stop working on behalf of senior care when he left AHCA. After 16 years at the group’s helm, he served as a senior associate at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health and as associate director of the university’s Center on Aging and Health.

“Paul was a resounding voice for long-term care, paving the way for the future of the profession while spearheading a focus on quality care for our nation’s seniors,” noted Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, following WIllging’s death in 2011.