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Cathy Nielson, MPH retires from MAHEC

Faculty Spotlight: For Nielson, the Third Time’s a Charm!

Today, MAHEC is saying goodbye to long-time friend and special project super star Cathy Nielson, MPH, who is retiring for the third and, she swears, last time. In 2007, Cathy ended her long career as an occupational therapist at UNC Chapel Hill. Her second retirement was from Mountain BizWorks where she spent several years helping local entrepreneurs and communities thrive.

In 2014, Steve Crane, MD, coaxed Cathy out of a brief second retirement to help him with the development of a patient-centered EHR under an AHEC Innovations grant. Since then, Cathy’s public health, planning, and grant writing skills have made her an invaluable contributor to many initiatives here at MAHEC including Caring 4 You, a mobile care management and primary care services program for high-risk patients; MAHEC’s IDD adult primary care clinic; and home-based primary care.

“Cathy has played a quiet but critical role in helping MAHEC care for vulnerable populations,” Dr. Crane shares. “She’s mentored numerous students and young faculty in how to provide person-centered care by focusing on patients’ goals.”

When asked what made her come out of retirement for the last time, Cathy wasn’t at a loss for words.

“For me, the three most important aspects of a workplace are that the work makes an impact on people’s lives, that the employees are treated with respect, and that innovation is valued,” she explains. “I found all three at MAHEC.”

For the past two years, Cathy has worked closely with Center for Healthy Aging co-directors Tasha Woodall, PharmD, and Will McLean, MD, to develop home-based primary care services for MAHEC patients 50 years of age and older with complex care needs. Cathy helped coordinate a community-based interdisciplinary care team to ensure patients could reach their health goals including those related to social determinants of health like fresh food and stable housing. She also helped secure funding for the program’s expansion though grant writing and management.

“One of the single best things I have done in any work situation was this past winter when I helped get COVID-19 vaccines to our home-bound patients,” Cathy shares. “Everything I needed from work was realized in that experience – great people doing good work for the benefit of our community.”

As Cathy prepares for her third and final retirement, she looks forward to engaging her intellectual curiosity in new ways through creative projects, traveling with friends, and discovering new daily rhythms and activities. She knows from her early training that these are all things that make for a satisfying life in or out of retirement.

We wish her all the best!

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