Brennan was Providence's first lay chief and Ascension's first chief

March 15, 2021

Don Brennan died Feb. 12 at age 83. His career in health care and insurance administration spanned 40 years, with half that time in Catholic health care leadership and governance. Brennan was the first lay president and chief executive of a predecessor of Providence St. Joseph Health and the first president and chief executive of Ascension.


Brennan was a "true inspiration and guiding hand" for the ministry and a "passionate advocate for health reform and the mission of Catholic health care," says Sr. Mary Haddad, CHA president and chief executive officer. She says Brennan's commitment and dedication are "shining examples for us all."

After serving in the U.S. Navy and working several years as a laborer in Denver, Brennan was the first in his family to attend college. He earned an accounting degree and a master's of public administration from the University of Colorado. Beginning when he was a graduate student, he worked at the University of Colorado Medical Center in Boulder.

Brennan started at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle in 1974, rising to the role of chief executive in two years. In that capacity, he led the creation of one of the first Medicare health maintenance organizations.

He departed Group Health in 1980 to join the Sisters of Providence Health System, a predecessor of Providence St. Joseph Health. As that system's chief executive, he oversaw its transition into an integrated health care delivery system, its establishment of a health plan and its pioneering participation in the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, commonly known as PACE.

Upon his 1993 retirement from Providence, Brennan began a two-year tenure as a chair of Washington's Health Services Commission, which implemented that state's new health reform law.

In 1999, at the behest of the Daughters of Charity National Health System of St. Louis, he helped that organization to merge with the Sisters of St. Joseph Health System of Ann Arbor, Michigan, to form Ascension Health. He was St. Louis-based Ascension's chief executive from 1999 to 2001.

Brennan served on the board of CHA, as well as multiple Catholic health care systems.

In 2001, the year after his retirement from Ascension, he received the Sister Concilia Moran Award. CHA annually gives the award to a trailblazing thinker with an understanding of Catholic health care as a ministry of the church.

In nominating Brennan for the honor, three women religious who were sponsors of the former Daughters of Charity National Health System wrote of his vision in seeking to create "a strong, vibrant Catholic health ministry." They described him as a man of integrity. They wrote, "through his ideas, influence and actions Don mentors and encourages others."

Brennan's private funeral will be at St. James Cathedral in Seattle March 22.

Copyright © 2021 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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