She’s All Heart

Photo by Lawrence Tabudlo

For new president and CEO Kathleen “Kathy” Morimoto, the mission of St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawai‘i is to carry on the legacy of St. Marianne Cope through compassionate care.

While growing up in her hometown of ‘Aiea, Kathleen “Kathy” Morimoto never imagined she would someday take on the leadership role of a major organization. But while she couldn’t envision her future career path, she was still sure that her voyage through life would lead her to where she was needed.

How prescient she turned out to be! In December, Morimoto was named president and CEO of St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawai‘i, after its board of directors conducted a comprehensive local and national search and determined she was ideally suited for the role due to her experience in the health care field.

Morimoto credits the unseen guiding force that’s led her to this point in her life.

“To think that with God’s grace that He actually shaped my journey to lead me here always leaves me humbled and grateful,” she says. “But it was always as I was walking my own journey. I never realized how important it was for me to appreciate those steps.”

Her first steps on the ladder to success included education, notes the proud graduate of Hawai‘i Baptist Academy and University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, who later earned a certified public accountant designation. Morimoto began her career as an audit and consulting manager with Arthur Andersen LLP. She also served in leadership roles at The Queen’s Health System and The Queen’s Medical Center.

In all, she has a decade of health care experience in Hawai‘i. Most recently, she served as vice president of clinical integration and community health at HMSA.
“The one thing that resonated with me throughout my lifetime was, ʻWork hard so you can support your family,’” she explains. “It was never a professional ambition for me to say, ‘Well, I want to be a president and CEO.’ Not at all, but I think because of God’s grace, He led me here and prepared me for what this role requires. But also giving me the humility to know that this role is not about me, it’s about the ‘heart’ work.”

According to Morimoto, the business of St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawai‘i is not merely hard work — which she fondly refers to as “heart work” — because it’s firmly based on a warm tradition of caring for others, especially kūpuna.

Sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, St. Francis Healthcare System is the only Catholic health care system in Hawai‘i. The health and wellness programs offered by it are rooted in a legacy that started with St. Marianne Cope and the Sisters of St. Francis, who came to Hawai‘i to care for those with Hansen’s disease in 1883.

Cope was born on Jan. 23, 1838, and a Feast Day ceremony to honor her legacy took place in January at the St. Francis campus.

“One of the things that struck me before even joining St. Francis in this role is I felt the love and compassionate care that resonates from this special place,” Morimoto says.

For example, just one of St. Francis’ myriad of components is the Clarence T.C. Ching Villas, a skilled nursing facility with short-term rehabilitation services.
“My family members are grateful patients of the Villas,” she notes. “I was walking the campus, I was meeting folks who work here, who are part of the organization and part of our partner organization ‘Ohana Pacific. It is truly the caring heart and dedication of each person here that cares for kūpuna in such a meaningful way that struck me.

“It’s one of the main reasons why I decided that this was the perfect fit for me. One of the things that I think is incredibly important at this day and at this time is how we appreciate, how we value, how we care for our kūpuna so that they can live with dignity and with quality of life. That’s our sweet spot. That’s what St. Francis has honed over the years.”

Among St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawai‘i’s other services are a new adult day care center, which recently opened on its Liliha campus; Franciscan Vistas ‘Ewa, an affordable independent senior living community; and Hale O Meleana, which offers a full range of residential care options.

The system also offers hospice care for patients nearing the end of their lives, in nursing homes or at its home-like 12-bed inpatient facility in Nu‘uanu.

But that’s not all the multidimensional system provides. It also has caregiver education and wellness classes, bathing and personal care services, transportation services and much more.

There is also a retreat and homeless outreach center in Wai‘anae known as Our Lady of Kea‘au, and a preschool in ‘Ewa Villages designed to provide keiki with a great start in life.

Partnerships with other organizations to provide caregiving have also been a sustaining force at St. Francis over time and Morimoto indicates she would love for that to continue.

“There’s about over 200 employees who are part of St. Francis and each day as I meet them, I see that they wear St. Francis — not as a badge — it’s really a duty and a calling. And I am honored and humbled to walk alongside of them and serve this amazing history,” she says.

Morimoto’s own history and upbringing have certainly shaped her personality and sense of self. In fact, she strongly believes that her role at St. Francis connects smoothly with her own lived experience of growing up in a nurturing family led by her father and mother, Setsuo and Misae Naito.

“I think what I love as I thought back about all of the different connecting points, I’m sure none of it was by coincidence. I think it’s all a part of a grander God’s plan, and my family, as long as I can remember, have role-modeled caregiving,” Morimoto emphasizes. “They honored each other, they cared for one another. My mother and father took care of their parents in their elder years. And today, my mom is going to be 97 in a couple months, and she’s surrounded by love and support from our family. Particularly, she has a live-in caregiver and my brother — who is always visiting because he lives very close by.”

When it comes to her own nature, Morimoto describes herself an “extreme introvert.”

It’s a characteristic she believes she inherited from her dad, who passed away in 2012.

“Just thinking back and realizing, I think a lot of that is an example that I had from my dad, who was very quiet, very thoughtful, very observant and always intentional. And I never really understood that until I started to see that in myself,” she explains. “And so, I’m very grateful to him because he showed me so much of what it meant to be a good person, what it means to be a person of integrity, what it meant to be committed to a purpose and being steadfast about it.”

Her dad was also known by the nickname “Strong Boy,” due to his remarkable physical strength while serving in the U.S. Army, working in the construction industry in Hawai‘i and hitting a golf ball the farthest while playing with his friends.

Part of Morimoto’s love of working in the health care field revolves around her dad. She says that trait was developed while she was employed at a previous position at Hawaiian Electric Industries and Hawaiian Electric Co.

“And then, as life happens, my dad became critically ill all of a sudden … so I left my role at Hawaiian Electric Co. to spend time caring for my parents, my dad especially,” explains Morimoto.

After 10 months of her being by his bedside, Morimoto’s father eventually became paralyzed and spent the next two years in a skilled nursing facility.

“But that journey made me fall in love with health care and it was through that experience that I got a call from a dear friend and a mentor who was on the Queen’s board at the time, asking if I would be interested in joining Queen’s in a strategy role,” she says.

Flash forward to today, and Morimoto is proud to say she started a family of her own.

“My husband, David, is my soulmate. We’re just a great team together, and he has had a lifelong career at Central Pacific Bank where he is chief financial officer. We share the joy of two daughters.”

Their eldest daughter graduated from Syracuse University in New York last year. Their younger child also followed in those footsteps by attending Syracuse, before ultimately transferring to Santa Clara University in California. Morimoto spent four years traveling to Syracuse for family weekends, and she’s excited to still be able to visit there — because that’s amazingly close to where the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities is based.

Although she’s not Catholic, Morimoto says that faith is at the core of her being. She enjoys attending Christ Centered Community Church in Honolulu, also known as C4 Church. She loves participating in meditative sessions called “Fresh Fire” at church on Monday mornings.

In her spare time, Morimoto has taken up golfing with her husband and enjoys yoga as a rejuvenating stretching exercise. She also has had a lifelong tradition of enthusiastically playing the Japanese card game hanafuda in family tournaments for “bragging rights” — which continues to this day.

Summing up her feelings about life and her career, Morimoto’s voice brims with emotion.

“I’ve had the most amazing mentors and lifelong friends who continue to support and encourage me,” she says. “And then, I found blessings every step of the way, and that comes from my trust and my faith in God, which I can use to be the source of purpose and identity and confidence.”