Charlene Harrington graduated with a joint Ph.D. from the Department of Sociology and the Department of Higher Education in 1975. Her specialty areas were medical sociology, work, and education and her dissertation was entitled: Ideologies of Physician Groups Contenting for Power Within the Medical Professor. She grew up on a farm in Kansas and received the Bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Kansas, the Masters degree in public health nursing from the University of Washington.
After receiving her doctoral degree at UCB, she was appointed deputy director of the California Licensing and Certification program, where she was instrumental in strengthening the legislation and regulation of nursing homes and hospitals in California under Governor Jerry Brown in 1975. In l980, she joined the faculty of School of Nursing in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California and focused her teaching and research on long term care, nursing homes, managed care, and home and community services. She later served as Chair of the Department and Associate Director of the Institute for Health and Aging.
She served on the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Nursing Home Regulation whose l986 report led to the passage of the Nursing Home Reform Act of l987, and she was elected to the IOM in 1996, where she has served on three IOM committees that examined the nursing workforce, long term care quality, and patient safety (1996, 2001, 2003). She and a team of researchers designed a model California consumer information system website for nursing homes funded by the California Health Care Foundation (launched in October 2002) that she continues to maintain and expand. Since 1994, she has been collecting and analyzing trend data on Medicaid home and community based service programs and policies, currently funded by the Kaiser Family Foundation. In 2003, she became the principal investigator of a five-year $4.5 million national Center for Personal Assistance Services funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, which was refunded for (2008-2013). She has conducted many research projects on nursing home enforcement systems and has published those in peer-reviewed journals. She has testified before the US Senate Special Committee on Aging, and has written more than 200 articles and chapters and co-edited five books while lecturing widely in the U.S. and the U.K.
She is currently Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Nursing at UCSF where she directs two large research projects and is working on an international study of long term care in 6 countries including the US and Canada. She continues to serve on a number of national committees related to long term care policies and to be active in professional organizations and teaching.