Keehan to examine relationship between money, health care

Sr. Carol Keehan

This article originally appeared on Page 1 of the Wednesday, July 1, issue of The Chautauquan Daily

Emma Morehart | Staff Writer

To close the first week of the Interfaith Lecture Series, Sister Carol Keehan will discuss the economics of maternal health in her lecture, “Will U.S. Health Reform Advance Maternal and Child Wellbeing?”

At 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Keehan will address the misconceptions that people often have when examining maternal and child health and the relationship between money and health care.

“With maternal and infant mortality, most of what we need to know we already know very well,” Keehan said. “It’s finding ways to make that available to the women. We know what we need to do for mothers. We know how to treat the most common conditions that kill mothers and infants.”

Keehan is the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, and she combined her degrees in nursing and health care finance to gain a unique perspective on health care.

“It grew out of my concern that we need to be able to do programs that take care of the poor, because so often, people are saying, ‘Well, that would be nice to do, but we can’t afford it,” Keehan said. “Well, we can afford to do a lot of things if we spend our money right.”

The standards may not be the same in Haiti, for example, as in America, but improvements can be made. Instead of a physician’s office and a board-certified obstetrician for every mother, Haiti could have nurse midwives. In cultures where male doctors are taboo, the solution can be a midwife, rather than no doctor at all.

“You can look at what’s the best way to spend the money that will get the most from the money we have to spend,” Keehan said.

Keehan’s approach combines morality and economics to tackle the challenge of determining the most successful methods of improving health care and choosing the cheapest methods from those options.

The concept of choice is not a strictly economic theory; people make choices in their beliefs and their faiths, and often these choices seem to lend themselves to hypocrisy.

For example, Keehan said, people taking a pro-life stance should keep in mind the high maternal mortality rates in these countries.

“Particularly a number of the Christian churches that speak so profoundly on the value of human life, well it’s not very pro-life to have this many mothers and babies dying,” Keehan said.

A common belief in countries that suffer from high rates of HIV, AIDS or maternal mortality consider the death to be either punishment from God or God’s will for that person’s life.

“It is so easy, and it ought to frighten us, but it doesn’t seem to — to decide what we think God’s will is, and substituting our judgment for God’s,” Keehan said. “I don’t happen to believe it works that way, and I think it’s too easy to say everything is God’s will. Our failure to respond to get a person decent care is not God’s will.”

Still, some choices should be easier than others, Keehan said. She cited the Bible verse Matthew 25:40 in which Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

“If you believe that everyone is created in the image and likeness of God, you just can’t know these things and not try to respond,” Keehan said. “If you believe in the teachings of the Gospel… who’s more vulnerable than a mother and her baby, about to deliver in a place where there’s not good access to care if you have complications?”

Often, the miscommunications are cleared by a little introspection, open-mindedness and cooperation among people, Keehan said.

“Sometimes, if we think about these things, and we talk about them together, we put our best minds to finding solutions,” Keehan said. “And the truth of the matter is the people that care enough to come are the kind of people that will be active and … can be part of the solution, and it’s going to take a lot of people to make a dent in this problem.”