2013 Opus Prize Recipient
Sr. Carol Keehan
Sister (Sr.) Carol Keehan serves the Catholic Church as a Daughter of Charity and as President and CEO of Catholic Health Association (CHA), the largest umbrella organization in the United States for Catholic healthcare facilities. Born near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., she moved to southern Maryland during World War II when her dad served in the military. Sr. Carol attended Jesuit grammar and high schools, and then went to Norfolk to earn her nursing degree. She decided to join the Daughters of Charity at the completion of her freshman year -- and in her own words -- lasted just six days. After completing her nursing degree at St. Joseph's in Emmetsburg, Maryland, she decided to give the Daughters of Charity a second chance. They gratefully accepted her and immediately placed her in a leadership position.
At 25 years of age, Sr. Carol opened a children's hospital in Pensacola, Florida where she initiated a number of obstetrics programs for the poor and gained her first political experience. She went back to school to earn a Master of Business Administration from the University of South Carolina, and then returned to the Washington, D.C. area where she taught nursing, administration, and finance to nurses from Japan. Her 35 years in the healthcare field include stints as board chair of Ascension Health's Sacred Heart Health System in Pensacola, Florida, and 15 years as president and chief executive officer of Providence Hospital and its affiliates in Washington, D.C. She assumed the leadership of Catholic Health Association in 2005. CHA has more than 600 healthcare member institutions and sponsors some 1,400 other ministries including elderly care sites and nursing homes.
Sr. Carol's life and work is rooted in her Catholic faith and in the tradition and values of the Daughters of Charity, the largest community of women in the Catholic Church founded in the 1600's. The early sisters were not well-educated, but then as now, they were called and assembled to serve the poor. More than 19,000 Daughters of Charity – who never take vows for more than a year at a time – can be found almost everywhere in the world caring for orphans and the sick, working with severely handicapped children in Israel, sponsoring nutritional centers in Latin America, and providing education at great personal peril in Bethlehem and Libya. Sr. Carol may be among the most high profile Daughters of Charity, but she approaches each day with humility and compassion, steeped in the tradition and service of those sisters who have served before her.
With the full support of the board of Catholic Health Association, Sr. Carol devotes considerable time each day advocating for affordable healthcare for the poor. She has been a member of several labor, health and domestic policy committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and has worked with President Obama, the leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to help draft the legislation that would expand healthcare coverage for the poor without providing federal funding for abortions.
She believes that one cannot subscribe to the gospel and Catholic social teaching and not advocate for affordable healthcare for the poor. While she is the first to admit that the current legislation is not the bill CHA would have written, she stresses the importance of supporting this opportunity to provide healthcare for people who work in fast food restaurants, hotels and as cab drivers – some 50 million people and 9 million children in the United States who are currently not covered by health insurance. Sr. Carol is adamant that CHA has a moral responsibility to advocate for those who have no voice in our society, and who make many of their healthcare decisions based on the fact that they are uninsured. She is justifiably proud of the role that Catholic Sisters have played in building the largest private healthcare system in the world, and who continue to work in the healthcare field – as she does -- for all the right reasons.
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