New hospital administrator touts 'personal connection' with hometown assignment

Michele Keeling, vice president and administrator of Saint Francis Hospital Muskogee, discusses her appointment and what she hopes to achieve while serving in her new role. 

Saint Francis Hospital Muskogee's new vice president and administrator identified three primary objectives she would like to address while overseeing operations of a facility that serves her hometown. 

Michele Keeling, a Muskogee native, is a 22-year employee of Tulsa-based Saint Francis Health Systems. She previously served as the organization's executive director of quality before her recent promotion, honing her expertise in quality and process improvement, and regulatory compliance.  

Those three basic priorities, Keeling said, include "improving patient experience ..., replicating the level of quality we have at our other entities," and "creating the work environment" that allows all hospital staffers "to perform at their highest levels." She said those objectives are shared systemwide by Saint Francis Health Systems, but they became more personal for Keeling after her recent promotion.

"I think there is an important question you always ask yourself as an administrator: Is it the type of care I would want my mother, my father, my children to receive?" Keeling said. "Because I have family here and my family members have been in this hospital in the last year, it is a very personal connection for me — I know people coming in and out of this hospital every day."

After her graduation from Muskogee High School, Keeling attended the University of Tulsa, where she earned a bachelor's degree with a major in health sciences and a minor in chemistry. She earned her master's degree in public health at the University of Oklahoma, where she focused on hospital administration during her her post-graduate studies.

Keeling said she believes it is important that Saint Francis Hospital Muskogee has the capability of providing comprehensive health care to the patients it serves. That is an objective, she said, that is shared by Saint Francis Health Care on a systemwide basis.

"We are not an out-of-state company — we are not buying and acquiring places in Tennessee and Texas, we are very much a northeastern Oklahoma organization," Keeling said. "So Saint Francis, you could say, is a very good partner with the community in providing health care ... (and) enable citizens of Muskogee to have comprehensive health care here."

Barry L. Steichen, executive vice president and chief operating officer, echoed Keeling's sentiment. He said said Saint Francis Health System is committed to success in Muskogee. 

"We are here, we are local, we are invested in the community," Steichen said, citing investments already made to address maintenance needs that had been deferred, facility improvements and in other areas. "We want to make the kind of long-term commitments that we feel are needed to be successful in this market, and we will do what we need to."

Keeling, who married her "high school sweetheart," Sam Keeling, said she is looking forward to being back in Muskogee, where she has "a large extended family."

"I have moved here, and I am planning to stay here," she said.

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