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Sr. Kathleen Popko, S.P. Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award from Catholic Health Association

June 7, 2012





Newtown Square, Pa., Thursday, June 7, 2012 -- Sr. Kathleen Popko, S.P., president, Sisters of Providence, Holyoke, Mass., received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) during ceremonies at the 2012 Catholic Health Assembly in Philadelphia, June 4.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is conferred each year upon an acknowledged leader of the health ministry who has inspired and mentored others. The individual’s leadership extends past the Catholic health ministry to influence and impact the local community and beyond.

Though Sr. Kathleen may be best known for her pivotal role in helping to legally combine the operations of the Sisters of Providence Health System, the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany Health System and Eastern Mercy Health System to create Catholic Health East in 1998, her involvement in Catholic health care began long before that.

Sr. Kathleen entered the Sisters of Providence congregation at age 17, following her high school graduation. She began her health care career in 1969 as a staff nurse at Mercy Hospital, Springfield, Mass., progressing to become the hospital’s assistant administrator for planning from 1975-1981. She also served as vice president of the Sisters of Providence congregation from 1981-1985, during which time she was project director for the creation of Sisters of Providence Health System (SPHS). She served as president of the congregation from 1985-1993, as well as the SPHS board chair. From 1994-1997, Sr. Kathleen was president and CEO of SPHS and was instrumental in the formation of Catholic Health East, which formed when SPHS came together with Eastern Mercy Health System and Allegany Health System.

“Sr. Kathleen served as a major change agent for Catholic health care on the national level,” said Ed Connors, who was chief executive of the former Sisters of Mercy Health System in Detroit and later served as chair of the steering committee that helped to form CHE. “She had significant influence with other religious congregations and sponsors, and she adeptly used this influence to help them understand and actively support the changes that were necessary to go from independent operations to structures of shared authority, responsibility and permanent commitment.”

When Catholic Health East was officially formed in January 1998, Sr. Kathleen became the executive vice president of the new ministry’s Northeast Division. During her eight years in this position, she provided oversight and support to the nine hospitals, 20 nursing homes, six behavioral health centers and numerous home health care and outpatient facilities owned by CHE in Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. As a key member of CHE’s senior management team, Sr. Kathleen helped to guide the ministry though this period of opportunity, growth … and challenge.

Sr. Mary Caritas Geary, S.P., called Sr. Popko “a true visionary. She has an uncanny ability to look ahead of the curve. She was one of the first to courageously voice a controversial, unpopular viewpoint that stand-alone hospitals, for the most part, did not have a future. Then she worked very, very hard to create a system of coordinated care that did not stray from her special dedication to care for the poor, elderly and disadvantaged.” Sr. Geary, vice president of the Sisters of Providence, and the 2002 recipient of CHA's Lifetime Achievement Award, has been a friend and mentor to Sr. Kathleen for more than 50 years.

In January 2006, Sr. Kathleen’s career came full circle, as she accepted the new position of executive vice president for strategy and ministry development at CHE. By returning to her planning “roots” on a full-time basis, she was able to devote all of her years of strategic planning experience and expertise in organizational and programmatic innovation to benefit the entire system. Among her key accomplishments were the development and implementation of CHE’s strategic plan (known as Vision 2017); the creation of “Leadership Vision and Guiding Principles,” a document which outlined CHE’s “shared services” approach to management; the development of CHE’s first Governance Charter; and the commitment to continuing care as a core ministry of CHE.

In October 2009, Sr. Kathleen answered the call of her congregation and returned to once again become president of the Sisters of Providence. She continues to develop new health care models, including an affordable, elderly housing community integrated on the same campus with a PACE (Programs for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) program.

“This has been an extraordinary adventure for me,” said Sr. Kathleen. “I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to work not only as a leader of religious life but also in the health care ministries. In doing so, I’ve met wonderful people who have encouraged, mentored and supported me as we’ve worked together towards shared visions that are motivated by gospel values.”

The video tribute to Sr. Kathleen that was shown at CHA’s Assembly Awards event can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyqefTG1oL4.

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