Patty Hayes Headshot

Patty Hayes, MN, RN
Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County

Patty Hayes tells a story from her child­hood about that time-honored oppor­tu­nity to shine or flame out, the School Talent Show. Her mother asked the young Patty what her talent was going to be. I’m going to be the MC!” she replied. It’s an apt metaphor for Patty’s career. I love orches­trating events,” she said. I love helping other people shine.” That’s exactly what Patty has been doing for more than three decades in roles that include execu­tive director of WSNA, policy director at the state Depart­ment of Health, execu­tive director of Within­Reach and, now, as director of Public Health – Seattle & King County. 

WSNA’s Legisla­tive Affairs Director, Jennifer McCaus­land, sat down with Patty to talk about leader­ship, politics and her passion for the health and well-being of young families.

In your work today, yesterday or last year, have you used the skills you learned in your nursing education? #

Yes, in my basic training and then in my master’s degree in Psychoso­cial Nursing, I learned a way of thinking that I use every day. The nursing process lends itself well to policy devel­op­ment, politics and research. Nurses are so well prepared to be epidemi­ol­o­gists or thera­pists, to work in the legis­la­ture or to work directly with families. From my master’s degree, I learned more about how to work in groups, how to listen, how to navigate issues. Nursing gives you the theory behind how to work from the other person’s perspective.

You have spent part of your career in legislature affairs representing nurses and nursing specialties such as nurse anesthetists. #

Yes. Walking into the volatility of politics means you have to be able to tolerate the inten­sity of politics. Nurses are great at being able to achieve things behind the scenes, which is not always how politics works. I believe leading on issues that are impor­tant to the public is an essen­tial role for nurses – issues like access to care, rural health, public health. We need more nurses in the Legis­la­ture. Repre­sen­ta­tive Cody, as Chair of House Health Care Committee, has been a great champion on so many issues over the years, but we need many more people who can under­stand the patient perspective.

And then the shift to public health? #

I found myself drawn to public health after doing broader systems work and working with families. Nursing gives you that opening to so many avenues, and I found the freedom to explore working directly with families. I have always been a gregar­ious external person; my Myers Briggs is a strong ENFP for those who are familiar with that. [editor’s note: Extra­ver­sion, iNtuition, Feeling, Perceiving] I find it so much more inter­esting to hear other people’s stories.

You said in your talent show story that you wanted to be the MC. Is that still true? #

When you begin to study leader­ship (and I have been a student of leader­ship theory and practice all of my career) you learn the art of empow­ering the members of your team, to work in groups; you learn to create magic through partner­ships. I’ll never forget when we were running the seat belt legis­la­tion and couldn’t get traction until we brought in the used car dealers. It created the magic solution for the legis­la­tors to hear support for the issue from a totally different interest group.

You have stayed active in WSNA throughout your career. #

I believe in WSNA, I believe in the balance of policy and repre­sen­ta­tion, and I’m proud to be part of the evolu­tion of WSNA as it is today. Nurses still don’t have the appre­ci­a­tion of their value in the workplace, and WSNA is there to help encourage the advance­ment of nursing as well as nurses.

And your legacy? #

My work for the health of families and the invest­ment in families in the early years is my legacy. One of my passions is building the respect and vision of the essen­tial role that public health plays every day for everyone. I want to help drive that system and continued policy changes.