Behind the Scenes with Mark Burket

Part 2: National Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes

Strong-willed, unafraid, and humble come to mind when visiting with Platte Health Center Avera CEO Mark Burket about his contribution to the National Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes. He was single-handedly responsible for carrying South Dakota’s voice to the national stage to help mitigate the spread of infection during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mark Burket, CEO, Platte Health Center Avera

After receiving word that a Commission was being developed, Mark Burket decided he would update his biography (as he had not done a resume in many years) and take a chance on being part of history.  With one click of a button he officially entered the pool of individuals wanting to make a difference by participating on the Commission. Nearly three weeks later he received an email notification that he was selected and from that point forward things moved very quickly. First was an onboarding interview with members of the Mitre group technical team and selection committee that was held via Zoom, in which he received a nice compliment that they had been “staring at his biography for weeks and that it was nice to finally meet him face-to-face.” His boots on the ground, not your normal CEO biography, resonated with the selection team. 

It was not until the press release came out from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that Mark realized he was only one of twenty-five to have the honor to serve on the Commission. The twenty-five members consisted of a very diverse group of individuals including a nursing home resident, consumer advocates, nursing home owners, administrators and infectious disease experts to name a few. He recalls feeling a little intimidated that he was one with the fewest credentials behind his name, but that certainly did not scare him off.

The first Commission meeting was held in late June for four hours and was initiated by CMS administrator Seema Verma. Each member of the Commission was allowed to introduce themselves and give their background and list their experience in the long-term care industry before diving into the task at hand.  The Mitre Corporation, an organization that assists the government in research and analysis, led all the meetings and “did a terrific job of controlling and guiding each meeting” Burket stated. The agendas were very well thought out and helped to guide the discussions in a timely yet effective manner.

All Commission members were given an equal voice, only Commission members were allowed to speak, all others were only allowed to listen and informed they could not talk or ask questions. There were approximately twenty high ranking individuals listening in on the calls from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and even advisors to the President.

This was the first time the Mitre Corporation had performed such a large-scale meeting completely virtual. The company used the Zoom platform. Each agenda topic was put on a timer that was strictly adhered to. The Commission met a total of 9 times for a total of 39 hours with over 50 hours of homework/research. Mark states there was much preparation and homework to be ready for each meeting. “You didn’t want to be ’that guy’ that showed up unprepared to discuss and make recommendations for the nations response to a pandemic.”

Mark reflects, “It was reassuring to hear and see the White House briefings with President Trump speaking of items that the Commission had brought forth just days before.” Kimberly Brandt, Principal Deputy Administrator for Operations and Policy at CMS, served as the conduit between the Commission and President Trump. “No matter your political affiliation, it was exciting to hear and see all of our hard work being addressed nationally.”

One of the biggest highlights during this entire process was that a handful of the Commission members were asked to attend a White House meeting with Vice President Pence, who was designated as the nation’s lead on the coronavirus pandemic. Mark was one of seven who were invited to attend.

Upon arrival at the White House they were all tested for coronavirus, asked to wear a mask, and were not allowed to have their phones with them.  He describes the press being in the room with them and “literally screaming their questions across the room at the Vice President. You know when you hear the press all trying to get their questions in on television, it is twice as loud in person!”

In all, Burket states he was extremely honored and humbled to contribute to the Commission. Resident and Family members was the one topic in every meeting to address quality of life. There was a very strong resident advocacy throughout all meetings.

Thank you, Mark for your contribution and for representing South Dakota’s voice! SDFMC appreciates you!