REPLY ALL | Pegeen Townsend
Vice President, Government Affairs, MedStar Health
Maryland Chamber board & legislative committee member
Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’m a lifelong Marylander and grew up in Silver Spring. I went to college at James Madison University and law school at George Mason University in Virginia. I’ve worked in Annapolis my entire career since graduating from law school. I was fortunate enough to live in Annapolis to work with the Maryland General Assembly.
What inspired you to work in healthcare?
It’s a funny question because I wasn’t inspired, I fell into it and actually. I consider myself incredibly fortunate and am really lucky to have found a career that I absolutely love. I came directly from law school to work for 90 days in a temporary position with the Maryland Department of Legislative Services. After the 90 days I was hired and stayed with that agency for nine years and was focused almost entirely in the health care arena.
What are the challenges?
With health care there are many challenges. The high cost of health care is certainly something I’ve grappled with my entire career. Cost affordability is a primary concern. Access to health care is another real problem for many Marylanders as well as many in the United States. The number of uninsured continues to remain high and we made significant progress under the Affordable Care Act with expanding access to health insurance coverage. But there are still about seven percent of the population in Maryland that remains uninsured.
Maryland is considered one of the high malpractice states where both the frequency and the severity of the awards is becoming crippling to some institutions. I will say MedStar is a health care system with ten hospitals. One of our hospitals had a 22 million dollar verdict and that hospital wouldn’t be here today if they were not part of a broader system that could absorb that kind of award.
What first got you involved with the Maryland Chamber?
After I left the Maryland Department of Legislative Services I transitioned over to the Maryland Hospital Association where I worked for 15 years. They were and continue to be a member of the Maryland Chamber and as such I was appointed to be on the legislative committee. I was given the opportunity to chair the legislative committee and that gave me a seat on the board of directors. So I’ve been very involved at many levels with the chamber over the course of my tenure here.
What has continued to inspire and motivate you throughout your career?
Some of its supply side projects. I sometimes get to do things that are a little off beat from my regular job. For example following the disturbances after the loss of Freddie Gray a number of the Baltimore City hospitals came together. I was the point person for MedStar and we asked our regulators if we could get $10 million in our hospital rates to establish a jobs program. The one thing that people said would make a difference is jobs for folks living in high unemployment and high poverty areas. That was going to be the path to make a difference and we did get approval and we had to match it. So we had a $20 million pot of money and we’ve trained a number of people into specific job categories.