With deep gratitude for her life and contributions, On Lok and the PACE community mourn the loss of Marie-Louise Ansak, On Lok’s co-founder and the first executive director of On Lok Senior Health Services, the healthcare model that has become the Program of All-Inclusive Care the Elderly (PACE). Marie-Louise passed away in her beloved home of Hawaii on April 10. She was 94 years old.
“Marie-Louise was a visionary, innovator, and trailblazer in the field of senior care,” said On Lok CEO Grace Li. “She dedicated her life to ensuring frail older adults could live with dignity and independence in their homes and communities. Her leadership, creativity, and unwavering commitment to support senior health were instrumental in creating PACE.”
A native of Switzerland, Marie-Louise immigrated to the United States in 1954, where she obtained her Master of Social Work. When Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965, ending years of discriminatory immigration practices, Marie-Louise’s work focused on serving the growing number of Chinese immigrants coming to San Francisco. In 1971, she was hired as a consultant to the nonprofit Chinatown North Beach Health Care Planning Corporation, led by Dr. William Gee, to explore the feasibility of building a nursing home in Chinatown. Her study recommended housing with co-located services as an alternative to a nursing home—a concept well ahead of its time—effectively launching On Lok Senior Health Services and the comprehensive, community-based long-term care program known as PACE.
On Lok’s Chief of Government Affairs & Compliance Eileen Kunz was a new public health school graduate when she joined On Lok to work on replication of the On Lok model. “I was fortunate to travel with Marie-Louise to Washington, D.C. and around the country and witnessed how she inspired people with her vision and built relationships with people who were critical in getting the PACE model launched–including federal and state policymakers, foundation leaders and many others. Marie-Louise led with passion and determination, never giving up, never taking no for an answer. She talked about the importance of preventative care and the social determinants of health—housing, meals, and transportation— recognizing the importance of addressing those needs long before others in healthcare. She truly understood what was important for older people to age in place, in their local communities, and had a tremendous impact on healthcare in this country, making a big difference for seniors and family caregivers.”
In 1997, after the successful national demonstration of On Lok’s innovative model of comprehensive and fully integrated healthcare care and financing, Congress passed the Balanced Budget Act, establishing PACE as a permanent Medicare provider and state option under Medicaid. Today, 150 PACE organizations operate in 32 states and the District of Columbia, serving approximately 60,000 older adults.
One of Marie-Louise’s other significant achievements was On Lok House, now named On Lok Marie-Louise Ansak House, where services are co-located with a 54-unit HUD 202 housing project with Section 8 vouchers allowing frail, low-income seniors to continue living in the community. This pioneering vision to co-locate housing with services is now more widely recognized across the country. During her tenure, Marie-Louise was deeply dedicated to the On Lok staff, whose work she valued as essential to the quality of care provided to community seniors. Diana Eng, who was at On Lok for 43 years and was one of its first employees, is grateful to have known her:
“I thank God for the life of Mrs. Marie-Louise Ansak. She was a lady with extraordinary vision, innovation, perseverance, and a deep love for the wellbeing of elderly people. That was how and why she established adult day health care and then the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly in the 1970s and 1980s. The remembrance and spirit of Mrs. Ansak will live through her legacy of those senior programs.”
Marie-Louise’s courage and vitality extended beyond her work. After retiring from On Lok in 1993, Marie-Louise, an avid sailor, crossed oceans on her beloved sailboat, “Dessert First,” exploring the world until 2016, when she started her second retirement in Hawaii. She loved people and made friends wherever she went.
“Marie-Louise’s contributions to On Lok and PACE are immeasurable,” said Grace. “Her work established a gold standard of care for underserved seniors with long-term care needs. Her legacy will continue to inspire and guide us in all that we do, today and into the future.”