New Center for Practical Bioethics President and CEO Will Focus on Health-Related Social Needs

James D. Stowe was in fourth grade on a museum field trip when an adult asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He remembers answering that he wanted to be a PhD so that he could be an expert.

That aspiration may have earned him blank stares at best from his fourth-grade peers. It also foreshadowed a future of strategic thought and lofty goals, realized most recently by his appointment as the Center for Practical Bioethics’ third President and CEO in its nearly 40-year history.

Stowe was born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas, with two older brothers. His father, now partially retired, was a housepainter and mom a nurse. Stowe observed the struggles and joys of his grandparents as they aged. That, combined with what he saw in the media and picked up from courses as a political science undergraduate, raised his awareness of permanently changing demographics in our society and the opportunities those changes presented.

All of which led Stowe to specialize in gerontology for his M.S. in Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University and his PhD in Human Environmental Sciences at the University of Missouri.

Upon the advice of a graduate advisor in 2009, Stowe had the opportunity to meet with John Carney, then Vice President of Aging and End of Life at the Center for Practical Bioethics. In addition to its pioneering work in advance care planning, the Center coordinated the early years of the region’s first major initiative to address the needs of older adults. Now known as KC Communities for All Ages, the program informs municipal and county planning and policy throughout the region with an aging lens.

MARC Years

Stowe’s next encounter with the Center grew out of his role at the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), which he joined as Director of Aging and Adult Services in 2017.

Stowe’s department at MARC administers funds authorized by the federal Older Americans Act for the five-county Kansas City metro area’s Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs). AAAs are a nationwide network of nonprofit agencies that help vulnerable older adults live with independence and dignity in their homes and communities.

“John Carney and the Center, among other thought leaders, came to MARC in 2016 to drive the expansion of integrated healthcare models such as MARC’s Mid-America Community Support Network,” said Stowe. “The idea was to integrate a variety of community-based services known to improve health outcomes and quality of life into the healthcare delivery system, as well as to reduce healthcare costs.”

“Imagine a person with limited function, just discharged from the hospital into a world totally different from what they knew before,” he said. “Or remaining underserved for reasons that have nothing to do with clinical presentation and everything to do with characteristics of their household resources or community experience. The Network serves as an access point to an array of wraparound social health services that help people remain stable in the settings they choose.”

By the time Stowe left MARC, he oversaw a staff of 20 and budget over $10 million from a variety of private, public and government sources, with a national reputation for leading one of the top-performing AAAs.

The Search

Stowe wasn’t searching for a new position when the Center announced its search for applicants to succeed Carney.

Nevertheless, when brought to his attention, Stowe said he was attracted to the Center’s “highly respected staff, dynamic board, thought leadership, work not done by any other organization, and the Center’s potential to be well positioned to respond to major demographic and market forces.”

“Stowe brings a host of experience in community health, fundraising and nonprofit management to the role,” said Stephen Salanski and Eva Karp, who co-chaired the nine-member search committee. “We were especially impressed by James’ approach to partnership-building, operations experience and research background.”

Stowe cites several areas he plans to focus on when he arrives on the job in February. Topping the list is revenue diversification, a process initiated by Carney through the Affiliate Agreement Program, which provides fee-based services to help improve performance of hospital and health systems’ ethics committees as well as clinical staff involved in ethically complex cases.

Stowe’s success in business development at MARC will inform this work.

“In retrospect at MARC, we were able to identify areas of the market where a community mandate existed but resources were lacking and to respond to that need by scaffolding one funding opportunity on to the next,” he said.

At the Center, Stowe’s priorities also include:

  • integrating infrastructure and backend office functions to cohesively serve all of the organization’s initiatives;
  • furthering efforts to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice;
  • exploring ways to refine messaging about the Center’s mission, vision and values; and
  • ultimately, to grow the Center’s imprint on national issues in health and healthcare.


A Leader for All Seasons

True to his fourth-grade self, Stowe did earn a PhD and has developed expertise in aging and the role of social factors in health and function, with numerous research papers and presentations to show for it.

Let it not be said, however, that Stowe’s head is in the proverbial ivory tower. Sure, his passion for reading extends to keeping track of it on a spreadsheet. And, yes, he’s served two terms as President of the Missouri Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

But, Stowe can also be found making soap or working on cars in the garage of his Overland Park home, where he lives with his wife, Becky, son Parker, 14 and daughter, Sadie, 10. Indeed, Stowe isn’t shy about the fact that it’s been more than a decade since they had to hire a contractor for home repairs.

All of which bodes well for the Center for Practical Bioethics’ ability to move into its fourth decade with the leadership and tools to be successful.

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