Catholic Health Assembly ushers in new chapter for CHA
By JULIE MINDA
DALLAS — During a packed three days in the Lone Star State, speakers and nearly 850 attendees at the Catholic Health Assembly honored Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, on the eve of her retirement as CHA president and chief executive officer and welcomed her successor, Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM.
Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, left, and Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, share the stage at the assembly.
Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr./© CHA
CHA Board Chair Kevin Sexton announced that CHA is inaugurating the "Sister Carol Keehan Award" at next year's assembly to recognize an individual who has "demonstrated a deep commitment to social justice and the common good" and works courageously on behalf of the most vulnerable in society.
Sr. Carol had held CHA's top position for nearly 14 years. Sr. Mary, who was CHA vice president of sponsorship and mission services, succeeds her in the association's top post.
During the opening session of the assembly, Michael Slubowski, outgoing chair of the CHA Board of Trustees, told attendees, "I know that you share my feelings of respect, gratitude and love for Sr. Carol. I have said over and over again that she exemplifies the words, 'caring spirit.' We are so inspired by her leadership and resolve and her unrelenting commitment to our healing ministry."
At Sr. Mary's commissioning ceremony the following day, Sexton spoke of Sr. Mary's broad experience, personal confidence, engaging interpersonal skills and strong faith. He said she has the characteristics needed "to take on this leadership challenge and succeed."
Quoting Sr. Carol, Sexton said, "Under Sr. Mary's leadership, I believe Catholic health care's best days are ahead of it."
During general session remarks, Sr. Carol said the past year has been financially challenging for almost every Catholic health system and she warned of a very difficult time ahead for the ministry. She spoke of ongoing efforts to weaken the Affordable Care Act that have resulted in several million people falling off the nation's insurance rolls. Medicaid and the 340B drug discount program likewise have been under challenge.
She spoke of the ministry's "compelling creativity" in supporting a start-up company working to assure the availability and affordability of generic drugs and of ministry-led programs to meet the clinical and social needs of vulnerable patients in their communities.
Sr. Carol said the activity surrounding state-level abortion legislation, particularly the battle between the actors at the far ends of the two major political parties, could threaten hard-won conscience protections of health care providers.
However, these and other challenges should not leave the ministry disheartened, she said. "We need to take advantage of our strengths as individual community providers and as a major source of health care for our nation."
She said, "Health care is our business, and the more we demonstrate that we know it and execute it well, the stronger our influence will be. That is the reputation that got us where we are today."
Slubowski said Sr. Mary and Sexton will engage the membership to identify some "signature initiatives" that can be embraced by the entire ministry and contribute to a better future for people in communities served by Catholic health care.
In his address to the assembly, Sexton explained that CHA will do this in part by helping the ministry focus on and underscore its Catholicity and strengthen its role as an advocate for the poor.
Following her commissioning ceremony, Sr. Mary spoke to the audience of the ministry's "bright future." She said the ministry would be able to thrive amid all the pressures because of Catholic health care's ability to reach out to, and on behalf of, those in need. "It's why we're so well-positioned today to lead the transformation of health care in our country," she said.
Sexton said CHA will point ministry members toward ways to achieve demonstrated excellence, reinforce their special standing as defenders of those in need, and build upon their positive community relationships, including by expanding their relationships with other Catholic institutions. Sexton said these types of activities will provide additional momentum to ministry members already doing impactful work in these areas.
Sr. Mary said CHA will be a resource to ministry systems as they work to address health care disparities, improve health outcomes for vulnerable populations, focus on population health and engage in community outreach and collaboration to address the root causes of health issues.
Sr. Mary said, "Together with all of you, I will work unceasingly to ensure that CHA is a catalyst in forging a path forward and that Catholic health care is recognized for its leadership in promoting the well-being of our country."
Throughout the gathering, speaker after speaker paid tribute to Sr. Carol's career-long advocacy on behalf of women and children, the health care of the poor and vulnerable and her commitment to protecting life from conception to natural death.
Among the admirers were former Senate majority leaders and assembly co-presenters Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, and Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican. "I go all the way back to the decade before this when ACA was hotly contested," Daschle said, "and Sr. Carol was right in the middle, down in the trenches every single day. And just an enormous inspiration to so many of us."
Frist said, "Sr. Carol is out there, whether it is business meetings or hospital meetings or health care meetings, she's there. And she's always introduced as sort of the conscience of helping folks in need. You all know that."
At the assembly awards banquet, dozens of CHA's current and past board members took the stage to raise a champagne toast to Sr. Carol; the hundreds of banquet attendees joined in at their tables. Sr. Carol told those assembled, "I will miss you intensely. You have been so incredibly good to me. And I want to thank you with all my heart.
"And I promise that there will never be a day of my life that I don't pray for you and pray for your success in the ministry."
The CHA award that will carry Sr. Carol's name will be created by sculptor Abraham Mohler. It will depict Christ as the good shepherd. When Sexton announced the tribute, the sculptor's concept line drawing for the award was projected as a backdrop to the ballroom stage. A beaming Sr. Carol said the image reminded her of a statue by Austrian sculptor Rudolph Marschall in the Vatican Library that she has admired countless times. She joked that she has often said that if that statue ever turned up missing, people should check her office.
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