Coding Titan Hailed Upon Retirement

Margaret Skurka, an iconic healthcare leader, is stepping aside after 40 years of dedicated service to AHIMA and the World Health Organization.

She served on the board of directors for the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), and later represented AHIMA at the International Federation of Health Information Management Associations (IFHIMA). She had a seat at the table of the World Health Organization (WHO) Family of International Classifications (WHO-FIC). All this while serving as a professor emeritus at Indiana University Northwest campus in Gary, Indiana.

Today, Margaret Skurka is making one of several industry farewell appearances on Talk Ten Tuesdays. And the tributes continue to pile up.

“Like a bird to water” is how Linda Kloss, past chief executive officer (CEO) of AHIMA, recalled Skurka’s arrival. Kloss became the face and voice of AHIMA while presiding as its leader from 1995 through 2010, during a period of unprecedented growth and expanded influence for the well-respected professional society.

Skurka, the only child of Norwegian immigrants, was fluent in both Norwegian and Swedish, Kloss noted. “She traveled to Scandinavia throughout her life to visit family in both Norway and Sweden,” Kloss wrote. “At her first WHO-FIC meeting, she was able to engage with another member in Norwegian, making an instant colleague, and stood out as a multilingual American.” 

Kloss said Skurka’s ethnic background might have broken the ice during many encounters, as it was her curiosity, energy, and modesty that “marks her lifetime of service to (areas from) health information management (HIM) education, to coding, to AHIMA, IFHIMA, and to WHO-FIC, so special.”

A True Trailblazer

“Margaret served as the IFHIMA regional director of the Americas before moving up to assume the president role, all while supporting the federation and profession internationally as an educator and coding mentor, for well over a decade,” recalled Lorraine Fernandes, current IFHIMA president. “She tirelessly provided insight, guidance, and a variety of perspectives to stimulate discussion, decisions, and advancement of the global HIM profession.”

Fernandes noted that although Skurka is no longer officially serving as an IFHIMA representative, she continues to be a valuable resource in all matters related to the profession.

“She blazed the trail for us all, and will forever be considered a friend,” Fernandes said.

Of course, a discussion of Margaret’s contributions to IFHIMA must also include the more than 15 years she served as IFHIMA’s voice and vote on the WHO FIC Education and Implementation Committee, as well as a multi-year stint on the Morbidity Reference Group (MbRG), according to Marci MacDonald, immediate past president of IFHIMA.

“While an esteemed American educator and coding consultant, Margaret had the finesse to represent the global HIM and clinical coding community,” MacDonald said. “Not an easy task when probably over half of the WHO-FIC membership speaks English as a second language, and the diversity of education and skills in the profession are incalculable.”

“That sounds serious, but rest assured, Margaret always made sure we didn’t take ourselves too seriously,” Fernandes added. “She ensured we had some laughter, friendship, and over dinner, a glass of wine, to keep topics relevant and in perspective.” 

A Fitting Tribute

During today’s edition of Talk Ten Tuesdays, Skurka will report on the latest update to ICD-11, proving again her timeless relevancy.

“Margaret Skurka has been a wonderful HIM representative regarding data, data collection, and the classification systems,” wrote Laurie Johnson, herself a 40-year healthcare professional. “She played a key role in the ICD-10-CM/PCS rollout in the U.S. The ICD-10 implementation was very smooth, considering many people were dreading the change.” 

Johnson, a longtime contributor to both ICD10monitor and Talk Ten Tuesdays and a senior healthcare consultant at Revenue Cycle Management, further noted that Skurka is “well-known for her activities regarding classification systems internationally as well.”

Kloss added that Skurka always approaches situations as a listener, with an open mind; she may be the consummate expert on the topic at hand, but that is not how Skurka views herself, often noting that she is present for a function “to learn, as much as to teach.”

“And, of course, we must acknowledge that she is still at it, as curious and engaged as ever, in improving the quality of coded data,” Kloss said.

“I cherish my time working with Margaret, but I cherish more the years of our friendship.”

Program Note: Listen to Margaret Skurka’s live report today during Talk Ten Tuesdays 10 Eastern.

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