Paul Kuehnert is associate vice president – program for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation where he provides leadership and management direction for the Foundation’s work related to leadership and transforming health and health care systems.
Coming of age in the 1960s with parents who were faith-community-based activists for peace and justice, it wasn’t that big of a surprise to anyone in his family when Kuehnert decided to flout gender norms and become a nurse. What started as a bit of a dare and a way to make ends meet transformed into a vocation when he became a public health nurse early in his career. Serving children and parents in St. Louis’ Head Start Program ignited his passion for community-focused health promotion and advocacy—a passion that just won’t quit.
As an executive leader for more than 25 years, Kuehnert has led both governmental and community-based organizations in order to help people lead healthier lives. In the late 1980s he was a founder and later CEO of Community Response, Inc., one of the Chicago area’s largest housing, nutrition, and social service providers for people living with HIV/AIDS. He moved to Maine in 1999 and served in the state health department, leading the development of a regional public health system and becoming deputy director of the department in 2005. From 2006 to 2012 when he joined RWJF, Kuehnert was the county health officer and executive director for health in Kane County, Illinois, a metro-Chicago county of 515,000. There he led four departments—Public Health, Community Reinvestment, Animal Control, and Emergency Management—and worked with leaders from the private and public sectors to create the first county-level master plan in Illinois that integrated health, land use, and transportation.
Kuehnert is a pediatric nurse practitioner and holds the Doctor of Nursing Practice in executive leadership as well as the Master of Science in public health nursing degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was named a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Nurse Fellow in 2004 and inducted into the American Academy of Nursing in 2015.
True to his St. Louis roots, Kuehnert is an aficionado of the World Champion Cardinals. When there is no baseball to be had, he enjoys watching old westerns starring the likes of James Stewart, a hero who can resolve social justice issues in two hours or less.