"She is very comfortable in her own shoes. She knows who she is. She knows what she wants to do but she also understands how to get things done and what things can and cannot be," Swensson says. "CMS is in an extremely difficult setting given the politics of the country. But for somebody who has taken care of patients, dealt with physicians one on one, dealt with hospitals on multiple levels, and on the private side and the state side and now on the federal side, she is one of the very few people who would have that experience."
Swensson sat on the board at Johnston-Willis Hospital when Tavenner applied for the CEO job.
"We had more-senior applicants, but I remember when Marilyn had her time before the board she said 'You all know me. I know you. I know what this hospital needs. I know what it takes to run it. I know I haven't been a CEO before but I can do this job and I won't let you down,'" Swensson says. "She said it with sincerity that we knew Marilyn had, so we gave her the job, and she didn't let anybody down."
Later, when Johnston-Willis merged with nearby Chippenham Hospital, "Marilyn brought them together and without much rancor," Swensson says.
"She saw who the players were and she saw what their issues were and she talked to them and got things resolved. It wasn't like Marilyn was coming in with Marilyn's vision of 'this is what you have to do.' Her attitude was 'let's find out how we are going to get it done.'"
Laurens Sartoris, president Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, has known Tavenner for years, and says that while she brings a formidable level of expertise to the job, she is not a mere policy wonk or a technocrat.