I had the opportunity this weekend to recall a fascinating story I read in The New York Times several years ago, about a leader most of us would never have heard about had they not chosen to write about her. She was about to retire after 25 years of leadership in her role as CEO of a $4.2 billion hospital network, one of the largest Catholic hospital networks in the nation. Formed in 1986, it consolidated the management of 15 hospitals and 2 nursing homes in Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
Here are some statistics and facts from her time as CEO:
- During her 25 year tenure, operating revenues quintupled to $3 billion in 2010.
- The hospital network produced a net income that year of $247.9 million and provided $115.4 million in uncompensated care.
- A decade ago, she led a relentless campaign to improve performance resulting in the first Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award given to a health-care company.
- She pays blue collar workers in the system above scale.
- She has turned away arrangements with doctors who do not accept Medicaid.
- She preaches about the dignity of patients.
- She has made her hospitals smoke-free and banned the use of foam cups and plastic water bottles.
- She has worked for free.*
Sister Mary Jean, a Franciscan nun, is characterized by those who know her as having iron-willed competence and unblinking compassion. Her values-driven approach is what makes her health-care system distinct from some of its secular competitors yet does not seem to have detracted from its success. Those who underestimated nuns as managers “made a mistake,” Sister Mary Jean said. Based on her track record, I think she’s right.
*Because of her vow of poverty Sister Mary Jean accepted no pay for her work but the health-care system compensated her $1.9 million in compensation for the labor of all of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary who worked in the system.