Our team

Subject matter experts with experience, know-how and passion.

Barbara Otto
Chief Executive Officer

Barbara’s interest in disability and access to health care issues began at an early age. As the child of a parent with complex health needs, she is keenly aware of the link between economic and health care security and the importance of including people in the development of effective public policy. She has extensive expertise in Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security related public benefits programs and is frequently called upon to provide analysis and insights on health and disability, and employment matters with Congress, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Social Security Administration, and media outlets among others. She has been a technical author on important reports to Congress, including Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission. She started her career at Ernst & Young; has served as a consultant to both Cornell University and Virginia Commonwealth University on disability employment; was a Principle for the National Consortium for Health Systems Development; and is currently a Lead Investigator on a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute grant focused on patients with trauma-induced spinal cord injury. Barbara is a regular commentator for Crain’s Chicago Business, and the author of several articles related to implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 for the working poor and people with disabilities. She holds certificates from both the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Business School and is a graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. botto@smartpolicyworks.com

Joe Entwisle
Senior Health Policy Analyst

After graduating with a Masters in Rehabilitative Psychology, Joe realized that as a person with a disability, his health care supports were better suited to college than the workplace. Shifting gears, instead of going into the therapy field, he took a job in employment benefits counseling for people with disabilities, working with both public and private benefits systems. Joe loved the intellectual challenge of going under the hood to examine the interactions of complex systems and people. As a senior policy analyst with the University of Wisconsin and the state Department of Health Services, he developed and implemented initiatives such as the Medicaid Purchase Plan, the SSI Waiver, SSDI $2 for $1, Pathways to Independence, and Bridges to Work. Here, he’s developing a training program to help people with severe spinal-cord injuries participate in research for better health care models. And when he’s not busy with that, Joe serves as a vocational expert for SSA and as a Certified Life Care Planner over a variety of settings. jentwisle@smartpolicyworks.com

Zach Hunsinger, LSW, Esq.
Assistant Director of Veterans Programs

Zach doesn’t like to waste time. He graduated with both a Juris Doctor and a MSW, and a certificate in child law from Loyola. His studies included domestic violence law, clinical courses about working with survivors of violence, and seminars about human trafficking. He conducted research into child sex trafficking at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and field research about child-domestic servitude in Tanzania. Soon after, he interviewed children and women to search for indicators of child and adult sexual abuse at a child and family services department in Mexico. Realizing that much of his experience also applied to Veterans and their families, Zach joined us in 2010 to work on Veterans issues. Zach threw himself into helping Vets with the same passion he brought to helping kids, epecially in the realm of trauma healing. Among his first jobs was to create a mental health screening process, mental health training sessions for Veteran volunteers, and trainings for behavioral health practitioners. zhunsigner@smartpolicyworks.com

John Jansa
Director of Strategic Initiatives

John entered the nonprofit disability world through an unexpected turn of events. Placed by a temp agency at Progress Center for Independent Living, John began his work supporting a team of advocates tasked with moving adults with disabilities out of institutional settings throughout suburban Cook County. John was soon hired full-time as a community reintegration advocate, where he fought for increased access to home and community-based services. John spent 10 years at the agency, including seven years as program director, where he managed multiple programs serving people with disabilities including programs around benefit access, vocational rehab, legislative advocacy, and Medicaid/Medicare education and outreach. His experience strengthening collaborations across aging and disability networks led to a senior leadership role at Molina Healthcare of Illinois, where he served as director of community engagement. Following Molina, he moved on to serve as a full-time managing consultant for WKG Advisory in Chicago. There John focused on Medicaid waiver program implementation, managed long-term services and supports, and effective care coordination strategies for medically complex populations. John has presented multiple times at American Society on Aging conferences regarding aging/disability collaboration and is an ardent advocate for person-centered practices. John has a BA in Philosophy from Illinois State University and a BA in Broadcast Journalism from Columbia College. jjansa@smartpolicyworks.com

Phillip Lanier
Communications Director

After 30 years as an advertising copywriter, the last nine as a partner in a successful agency, Phillip decided he wanted to do something more meaningful in life. Selling buckets of chicken to overworked suburbanites wasn’t solving society’s problems. Convinced that his skills as a marketer might be valuable in the nonprofit world, Phillip went back to school for a Master’s Social Work with an emphasis on policy and advocacy. After interning with us, Phillip found fulfillment helping with our internal and external communications, including brand development, policy advocacy and social media. However, he still enjoys an occasional piece of fried chicken. planier@smartpolicyworks.com

Seomara Sanabria
Finance Director

Seomara joined the team in 2000 as an administrative assistant, which meant doing just about everything, including answering our help line, bookkeeping, and office management. Her fluent Spanish (and English) became invaluable for assisting our Spanish-speaking clients. As our organizational needs grew, Seomara built up her skills and expertise to become our finance director, creating fiscal management tools for our programs and taking the lead in the technology needs. Seomara’s time with us has given her a unique and personal insight into how our work impacts people and the systems we work to change. And it convinced us that there is virtually nothing Seomara can’t do. ssanabria@smartpolicyworks.com

Nina Sandlin
Digital Producer

Nina joined us at the healthcare-historic moment of October 1, 2013, and has been working ever since to consolidate and streamline our online properties. She re-engineered our Illinois Health Matters website, relaunching it in a mobile-friendly format and created Data Matters to showcase data-driven storytelling about the uninsured in Illinois. She’s now working to make available online the unique archives of our 25 years of working for social justice. In an earlier life, Nina taught herself how to write code and created the automation for the American Medical Association’s national weekly newspaper, which she ran for 13 years. Nina earned her Master’s in History from Southern Illinois University-Springfield (then called Sangamon State). Nina is also a Zoology Associate at the Field Museum. nsandliln@smartpolicyworks.com

Jeff Sklenar
Staff Accountant

Jeff may be an accountant, but he has decided his career should add up to more than dollars and cents. After serving in the Air Force, Jeff took his bookkeeping skills to the corporate world, working for many years in the food service industry. Becoming a father and spending a few years taking care of his grandmother helped Jeff assign some new values to his time. He began working for nonprofits, including a Chicago-based children’s literacy agency and a neighborhood housing organization, before coming here. His experience with the accounting challenges of nonprofits is very valuable to us, but what really matters is Jeff’s dedication to service. With every number he crunches, Jeff knows his hard work is adding up to something more important than money. It’s helping us pursue our mission. jsklenar@smartpolicyworks.com

Elizabeth Smart
Office Manager and Social Media Administrator

Many people advocate for the arts. Elizabeth wants to advocate for social policy through the arts. And she’s taking a hands-on approach in both worlds. Since joining us, she has put her get-it-done organizational strengths to work on some core needs and administrative support services for us. With her BAs in Theater Arts and Literature, plus experience in marketing and hospitality, Elizabeth has quickly become an important part of our public persona, helping craft and refine our voice in social media. She remains active in local theater, looking for ways to promote social change through the arts, and she hopes to begin working on a graduate degree in social services soon esmart@smartpolicyworks.com

Kawryne Holmes, MSW
Director of Veterans Volunteer Relations

Entering college, Kawryne was committed to getting her degree in social work and pursuing a career in child welfare. But while serving in the Illinois Army National Guard, Kawryne was moved by the needs of many Soldiers deploying to and returning from war. She decided to peruse her Master’s shortly after returning home from her own deployment. Today, Kawryne is still a leader in the National Guard, and also a leader here. Her unique insights as both a member of the armed forces and social worker have been invaluable to the success of our Warrior to Warrior program, helping Service Members and veterans get the services and supports they need.ktillman@smartpolicyworks.com

Melissa Turner
Strategic Initiatives

Melissa is an over-achiever who double-majored in Political Science and French, then earned a Masters in Public Administration before jumping into a job with the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services. There, she honed her policy expertise around disability and employment issues, Medicaid and Medicaid Buy-In programs, and other Social Security work incentives. Melissa joined our team to manage the National Consortium for Health Systems Development in 2001, facilitating technical assistance and state-to-state learning opportunities for 41 Medicaid Infrastructure Grant projects across the country. Melissa continues to oversee strategic initiatives for us, such as creating the infrastructure for a research-readiness training curriculum for people living with a traumatic spinal-cord injury, designed to improve the quality and relevance of research in this field. mwturner@smartpolicyworks.com

Bill Vallos
System Administrator

Just we work to improve the infrastructure of our health care and social services systems, to make them work smarter and better - Bill does the same for our own system, the things that make us able to work at all. A 20-year veteran of all aspects of Microsoft One platforms, he is responsible for our failover-coupled enterprise fileserver pair, Exchange Server, SharePoint and OneDrive installations, the organization’s phone services, and for managing the AWS server and DNS administration for all our digital properties. He even pulled the cable to set up the new office when the organization moved. He also supports the server side of our growing WordPress operations. Bill comes in and does things in the wire closet after hours, so folks here in the office are mostly aware of him as “the guy you call when something breaks”– but really, it is setting things up so they don’t break that takes all the work. bvallos@smartpolicyworks.com

Laura Gallagher Watkin, JD
Director of Veterans Programs

Laura has a deep background in public benefits and social justice law. After earning her law Degree from Catholic University where she also received a certificate in Public Policy, she represented low-income clients with disabilities at Southeastern Ohio Legal Services. She moved to Illinois to start the first Benefits Planning program in Illinois and served as Director of Benefits Planning at the Illinois Division of Rehabilitation Services for six years. She joined our team in 2006 because she wanted to serve people outside of Illinois as well. She provided training and technical support on health care and public benefits issues in 14 states and was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force on Access to Benefits in Illinois. In 2008, concerned about what local resource and services were being provided to the military families she started a Veterans program here. Under her leadership the Veterans programs have flourished and are focusing on providing support and resources to military families and Veterans. lgwatkin@smartpolicyworks.com