Dr. Bonner goes to Washington (well, Baltimore)

Alice Bonner


Opportunity seems to knock when you least expect it. For Graduate School of Nursing alumna and assistant professor of nursing Alice Bonner, PhD, RN, GNP, FAANP, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has opened the door for her to use her skills and her passion to effect change on a national level. 

Dr. Bonner, who received her PhD in nursing in 2008, was tapped to direct the Division of Nursing Homes at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), joining the Survey & Certification Group that is responsible for ensuring the country’s 16,000 nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities comply with strict CMS standards. She described the appointment as a chance to influence national policies and regulations and make a positive difference in nursing home quality for the entire country. 

“Health policy is created through careful analysis, literature review, review of evidence and comparative effectiveness research, and the application of sound principles,” she said, noting that those are the very skills she honed through her doctoral work and precisely what she’ll be doing in her new position. “There is more we can do, to not only meet the current standards for nursing home care but to develop and apply optimal standards and best practices for our nation’s elderly.” 

Bonner was recruited by CMS, where officials were aware of her work as the bureau director of health care safety and quality in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), overseeing the survey, certification and licensure of more than 6,000 health care facilities in the commonwealth, including nursing homes, home health agencies, hospitals and clinical laboratories. Prior to joining the DPH in 2009, Bonner was executive director of the Massachusetts Senior Care Foundation, an organization that works to improve the lives of older adults and persons with disabilities through research, education and quality improvement. 

A geriatric nurse practitioner for 20 years, Bonner had been the clinical director of Long Term Care and Geriatrics at the Fallon Clinic. She joined the GSN faculty in 2002 as a clinical instructor and coordinator for the GSN geriatric track and was named assistant professor of nursing in 2008. Her research and policy interests include falls prevention, medication safety and improving quality and safety in nursing homes. 

“Going to the GSN for my PhD was one of the best career decisions I’ve made, even though it was rather late in my career,” said Bonner. Her dissertation focused on patient safety culture in nursing homes, including concepts such as team work, error reporting, feedback on errors, communication and evaluation. 

Though she set out on a path for a different career altogether (she was a French major in college, determined to become an interpreter for the United Nations) Bonner took a job in a nursing home during college and fell in love with it. “I loved what the nurses did—they had both a leadership role and a hands-on role, and they had an ability to make a real difference in their residents’ lives and create meaningful relationships with residents and families.” 

“Geriatrics is the ultimate team sport,” she continued, noting the close collaboration of nurses, patient care attendants, primary care providers and specialists—and patients. “Patients are teaching us every day. 

Facing a surge in the elderly population as the baby boomer generation ages, Bonner is excited by the prospect of working with colleagues who have expertise in home care and community care to provide elders with choices. “Nursing homes are one of many ways of caring for our frail elderly,” she said. “Some people prefer to be in their own homes, but for others, a residential facility offers important social connections as well as nursing care. I think we’ll see a shift in the balance as our population ages.” 

Bonner will begin her new job Jan. 31 in Baltimore. She expects to return to the Worcester area frequently to visit family and the many close colleagues at both the GSN and the DPH.