Bennett takes on HealthSmart, the second time around |

Bennett takes on HealthSmart, the second time around

by Susie Vasquez, Appeal Staff Writer

A Carson City supervisor for 12 years, Kay Bennett is no stranger to working with public entities.

She decided against another term as supervisor in 2000, but after an 18-month sabbatical she’s back — this time as executive director of HealthSmart, the nonprofit organization she founded in 1996.

“Kathy Loomis left last spring and the board asked me to fill in on an interim basis,” Bennett said. “I expected to do this for about three months, but the work is so interesting and the effort so necessary, I stayed.”

Dedicated to raising the standard of wellness in Carson City, HealthSmart disburses funds to a number of local programs. The Nevada Urban Indians received $5,000 for after-school tobacco programs. Carson-Tahoe Hospital’s tobacco-cessation program received $4,773 for scholarships and the list goes on.

The organization manages and distributes an estimated $100,000 to $120,000 annually, the money coming from a number of entities throughout the year.

The state tobacco settlement grant contributes $96,000 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta contributed $40,000. The public health district contributed $20,000, as does Carson-Tahoe Hospital.

Diane Rush, marketing and public relations coordinator for Carson-Tahoe, lauded Bennett’s efforts, saying she has really “taken charge” of the program.

“We at Carson-Tahoe feel HealthSmart is very important,” she said. “The focus on wellness benefits the hospital because it saves beds for acute care. When the community is healthy, the hospital can function at an optimal level.”

Bennett was a hospital trustee and member of the American Hospital Association Regional Policy Board in 1996, when a committee was formed to look at the impact of managed care and how to lower the level of uncompensated care, especially emergency-room visits.

Originally from Brooklyn, Bennett raised her family in Sunnyvale, Calif., where she attended classes for her nursing degree. She became an operating room nurse, then moved to Carson City where she worked as director of operating room nurses at Carson-Tahoe Hospital for 15 years.

Bennett was divorced and her second husband, Hale Bennett, was a member of the hospital’s board of trustees when they met. She left nursing to dedicate more time to their relationship, before running for Carson City supervisor in 1988.

The couple own the Silver Springs Airport. Bennett said she was immersed in the development of that project before she took the position with HealthSmart.

HealthSmart has expanded over time to include a comprehensive range of health issues. The program offers free immunizations for children once a year in addition to low-cost flu shots for the general public.

In the future, HealthSmart expects to add more services.

“We’re still waiting for the final word on funding, but we’ll also be dealing with HIV education, prevention and intervention, primarily through other programs,” said Carrie Larson, HealthSmart tobacco project coordinator.

Creation of a public-health entity in Carson City to make health services more easily accessible in the community is on their list, in addition to playing a role in the Carson City Mental Health Coalition.