President of University of Chicago Medical Center joins CURE board

May 15, 2012

University of Chicago Medical Center President Sharon O'Keefe, a nationally recognized authority on hospital operations, health care quality and patient satisfaction, and the mother of a child with epilepsy, has been named to the board of Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE).

CURE was founded by parents of children with epilepsy who joined forces to spearhead the search for a cure by raising funds for research and increasing awareness of the disorder. The nonprofit organization has worked to establish epilepsy as a disease that merits crucial federal research funding. Since its inception in 1998, CURE has raised more than $18 million. CURE funds seed grants to explore new areas and collect the data necessary to apply for further funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). To date, CURE has supported 126 cutting-edge projects across the globe.

"Sharon O'Keefe has the professional skills, profound energy and personal commitment to bring a wealth of resources to our organization," said Susan Axelrod, chair and founding member of CURE and a past member of the NIH's National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council. "She is a recognized leader in the hospital industry and works closely with the University of Chicago Medicine's nationally recognized programs in pediatric and adult epilepsy."

In people with epilepsy, the brain produces sudden bursts of electrical energy that can produce seizures that interfere with consciousness, movements or sensations. An estimated 2.2 million Americans have epilepsy, with approximately 150,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year, according to a recent report from the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine. That equals nearly 500 new cases every day. Approximately one in 26 people will develop epilepsy at some point in their lives, according to the report. The onset of epilepsy is highest in children and older adults.

"I have seen how epilepsy can disrupt the life and plans of patients and their families. Our daughter, now 17, was diagnosed at the age of 5," O'Keefe said. "I also have seen remarkable progress toward understanding this disease through innovative research. I am honored to have been selected to serve on the CURE board and look forward to this new role in helping speed up the pace of progress in understanding, treating and, we hope, curing this disorder."

A Chicago native, O'Keefe, 60, began her health care career as a nurse at Loyola University Medical Center, then moved into hospital administration, first at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, then at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx in New York. From 1987 to 1989, she served as senior manager for health care at the accounting firm Ernst & Whinney (now Ernst & Young), where she developed a consulting practice focused on organizational design, operations improvement and large-scale change management.

She returned to hospital administration in 1989 and spent 10 years as senior vice president for operations at the University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore, where she focused on clinical program development and customer satisfaction. Her efforts helped the medical system become the first health care organization to receive the U.S. Senate Productivity Award in 1997.

In 1999 she moved to Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. As executive vice president and chief operating officer, O'Keefe developed and implemented a financial recovery plan for the recently merged but financially challenged hospitals. In 2002, she became chief operating officer at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, consistently ranked as one of the top 10 hospitals in the United States. In April 2009, she became president of Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., where she served until her appointment at the University of Chicago Medicine in February 2011.

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