Get to know: Julie Kenney

Photo of Julie Kenney.

Julie Kenney serves on the Board of Directors at CHI Health Foundation in Omaha, Nebraska, where she has been a passionate advocate for CHI Health for more than 14 years. In recognition of her long-standing advocacy and service on numerous boards and committees throughout the health system at the community and foundation levels, Kenney was recently named Board Director of the Year by CommonSpirit Health Philanthropy. The award honors one of CommonSpirit’s 1,500 local foundation board directors for giving of their time, resources, advocacy and all of the other meaningful ways they support their foundation.

In addition to her service to CHI Health, Kenney is active in her community, volunteering and serving in leadership roles on boards and committees with the Lauritzen Gardens Guild, the Omaha Symphony, the Food Bank Guild, the Archbishop’s Committee for Development and countless others. She and her husband, Steve, have three children, Patrick, Charlie and Ruby.

What was your first connection to the hospital and foundation?
I was diagnosed with a chronic lung condition (Non-tuberculosis Mycobacterium Avium Complex) as well as complications of Bronchiectasis. I suddenly found myself searching for specialists in infectious disease and pulmonary care. My father-in-law, Dr. Pat Kenney, was tied into the medical community and recommended a medical team at Bergan Mercy. I was very pleased with the service I had received while hospitalized as well as my out-patient care, I was delighted to join the Bergan Mercy Community Board when approached by Tom Crowley, a Major Gifts Officer at then Alegent Health.

How did you come to serve on the foundation board?
I was an active member on the Bergan Mercy Community Board and when the current chair retired, they asked if I would like to become the community board chair in 2010. I was very resistant to the idea initially as I am not familiar with the mechanics of a health system, scientific jargon or the incredibly involved finances related to a medical institution. However, my role as a patient advocate and community volunteer gave me some confidence as I moved from a board member to the Bergan Mercy Community Board Chair. As chair, I automatically became a member of the CHI Foundation Board. 

Intimidating initially, I found myself sitting in foundation board meetings with highly regarded physicians, professionals and prominent community figures. Where did I fit in? I had no idea what they were all talking about during some of those meetings. Why did others think I belonged here when I felt like I had nothing to offer?

What have you learned as a result of your board service and connection to the hospital?
Many years later, I have come to terms with the multiple roles I have at CHI Health. I have learned that board members come in all forms. I sit in that seat because I experience the health system as a normal patient. I see this looming institution as a hospital and I hear other patients express their heartfelt stories of gratitude as well as their heartache and frustrations. I know that a patient notices when Valet has been removed, how clean the bathroom was off the third floor lounge, if the attending physician was kind, how they were greeted in the E.R., or even that coffee machines were added to waiting rooms! Seems insignificant doesn’t it? To a patient and family member it is not. Many of them can choose to go anywhere for their care, others are not so lucky, but for those who have a choice they care about the doctors, nurses and any features that might make their stay more comfortable. 

As someone who has been hospitalized multiple times, attends doctors appointments and has even been treated in the E.R. for rabies, I can report that the nurse on duty is happy with her night shift and she notices that the President/CEO sometimes walks the halls at night. I can report that each time I enter one of our health care systems, I am stopped as a patient to ask where I am headed, handed a sanitary mask and encouraged to ask for any assistance.

Information from patients is important, but as a board member, information about prospective donors is essential. There is a myth that hospitals are rich in both power and money. True to the CommonSpirit Health mission, we are dedicated to advancing health for ALL people. Caring for the poor and underserved, CHI provides more charity care than all other surrounding health systems combined. Staying true to our mission of delivering exceptional patient care, while ensuring every person has access to quality health care, means that we are challenged to find the monies elsewhere when CHI patients are unable to pay. As a board member we must make introductions, be community advocates and ensure that others see the good works of CHI.

What role does gratitude play in your philanthropy and service?
A colleague recently relayed a story about meeting with a potential donor who commented that he was not a philanthropist. He preferred to be called a steward. This individual explained how philanthropy is based on our free choice – No one makes you support hospitals, events or businesses. You do so because you want to.

Stewardship, on the other hand, has a different dimension. It is not an option based on your personal preferences. It is the will of God. This caused me both personal reflection with my own charities I support, as well as a sensitivity to others and why they give. Our mission states that as CommonSpirit Health, we make the healing presence of God known in our world by improving the health of the people we serve, especially those who are vulnerable, while we advance social justice for all. Part of being successful and gracious is tending to those around you in a manner that speaks to them, and for some that is through faith. 

Ultimately, I believe, what makes CHI different is that we are a faith based health system. Many feel the same way, and desire this component in their lives, especially when they or a family member is struggling with health-related issues. So, to answer the question, I am trying to live in a state of grace, and be grateful for what I have. I am trying to be more prayerful in considering what is truly needed, and how I can help others. Along those lines, I am also reflecting on my own level of generosity. I heard once, “In order to be truly generous, you should FEEL it when you give of your time or money”. Do not just give what is necessary, but really reach and give of yourself in a capacity that is truly meaningful. This gave me pause. This is reflected in all levels of time, talent and treasure. I think that I need to stop doing what is easy and maybe challenge myself a bit more. I think we all do.

What excites you the most about the next five years for the foundation and hospital?
Strength. We are not the biggest game in town, nor will we ever be, but that does not mean that CHI cannot be strong and solid. A place people go for health care and where they are important and matter. An institution where the best doctors combine to provide health care that stands true to our mission of serving those who are vulnerable. Strong health care, kindness and compassion speak to who we are in this community. The “Hello Humankindness” campaign has left a lasting impression on everyone. Ask most in the community, and they will smile saying that those commercials always make them stop for a moment and watch. Well, just watch us gain more strength through our incredible physicians, compassionate nurses, involved administrators, dedicated volunteers and the simple act of human kindness!