Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sr. Carol Keehan - Catholic Health's $856,093 Nun

Since the election and during the buildup toward health care reform, Sister Carol Keehan and the Catholic Health Association she leads have come up for sharp criticism from prolife advocates. For her public support of the president's pro-abortion appointees to her campaign to enact health care reform now, she is accused of being at odds with the USCCB and the prolife cause, both of which have serious reservations about current health care proposals.

Part of this uproar is due to confusion over the nature of the Catholic Health Association and Sister Carol's role.

CHA is not a repository of Catholic social teaching with regard to health care or an association of moral theologians or a charity in service of the poor. It is a trade association. There is nothing wrong with a trade association, but too many reporters, including members of the Catholic press, have sought comment from CHA without recognizing they are primarily an organization with a vested financial interest in the outcome of the health care debate.

CHA does not represent patients or the poor. Their board is composed of, and Sister Carol represents, the very highly compensated chief executives of large health care conglomerates throughout the country. Lay-led corporations such as San Francisco-based Catholic Healthcare West and St. Louis-based Ascension Health run dozens of hospitals across numerous states which at one time were directly operated by religious orders.

The executives at these companies are compensated as you'd expect the heads of large corporations to be compensated. In the last year figures are available, the head of Ascension Health made $1,756,790 plus $599,744 in deferred compensation and benefits. Catholic Health East's top exec made $1,185,000 plus $693,000 in deferred compensation and benefits. Both execs are on the board of CHA, where they are joined by numerous execs from similar health systems.

But the biggest fish is Lloyd Dean, former Chair and current Speaker of Membership Assembly on the Board of Trustees at CHA. Dean is head of Catholic Healthcare West with 41 hospitals and clinics in California, Nevada and Arizona.

In 2006, the last year figures are available, Dean made $4,001,892 and the Chronicle of Philanthropy named him the second highest paid non-profit executive in the United States. Dean's compensation, according the the Chronicle of Philanthropy, is based in part on "improvements in the organization's finances". As well it should be. Dean also has made gobs in his position on other boards, including Wells Fargo & Co. Dean is non-Catholic and a donor to both the DNC and the Obama campaign.

This is not to begrudge these executives their salaries. It is only to point out that it is their interest that Sister Carol serves. And she serves them very much as a peer.

Sister Carol is a former longtime health executive herself, and her compensation at Catholic Health Association is $856,093. This in an organization whose expenses are only $17,660,797. Three other employees at CHA each make more than $300,000.

You can compare that compensation with the total program expenses and top executive pay at other national non-profits:

World Vision Intl.
Expenses $1,497,032,856
Top Exec. $281,316

Food for the Poor
Expenses $1,037,301,081
Top Exec. $301,200

American Medical Association
Expenses $234,654,866
Top Exec. $696,521

American Bar Association
Expenses $171,780,689
Top Exec. $791,472

Catholic Health Association
Expenses $17,660,797
Top Exec. $856,093

Sister Carol does not keep her salary. It goes to her order. It's noted here to demonstrate that her compensation at CHA is much more in line with a trade association lobbyist than the head of a charity.

Reporters and news consumers should keep that in mind when soliciting CHA for comment on health care reform. Moral concerns are not their bottom line. The bottom line is.