Sister Irene Kraus leans forward as she speaks, occasionally rapping her fingers on her desk to emphasize a point. Prominently displayed on her desk is a sign that reads, "The buck stops here."
Chiarman-elect of the American Hospital Association (AHA), Sister Irene is discussing her goals as a leader in the largest hospital organization in the country. She feels that modern technology, for all its benefits, has lessened the human touch in the delivery of health care.
"We're so worried about a machine showing the right thing or a dial being exactly right," she says forcefully, "we've forgotten the person who by the act of God must make use of that technology. Technology has done a lot for us, but it has tended to put something between the patient and the person caring for the patient."
Sister Irene, 55, who is also president of Providence Hospital in Northeast Washington, attributes her interest in the more human aspects of health care - and her ability to bring this to the attention of her colleagues - to the fact she is the first woman, the first nurse and the first member of a religious order to occupy this position in the AHA.
Citing nursing practices of the 1940s, Sister Irene recalls, ""Soothing the fevered brow" that you hear so much about - thats what we did. If a person had a fever, we didn't have antibiotics to give him. So we tried to keep that fever down by literally "soothing the fevered brow" with ice and other things to try to cool him off."
She shakes her head. "Then this wonderful technology came along. We haven't had to "soothe the fevered brow." A couple of medicines can do that almost instantaneously. The whole approach to care has changed."
As a principal spokesman for the AHA, Sister Irene is in an advantageous position, as she puts it, to "raise the consciousness" of hospital administrators and medical staff members.
"I thought (my election) was a wonderful chance for me to pull this whole field back into perspective," she says.
Since her election as an AHA official last September, Sister Irene has logged 60,000 air miles. She speaks often at regional board meetings, state hospital board meetings and conventions, presenting AHA policy on various issues.
In the first phase of a three-year, three-phase job, Sister Irene presides over the AHA General Council, a major policy-making body for the organization. In subsequent years she will chair the Board of Trustees and the House of Delegates, other policy-making groups within the AHA.
Sister Irene's prominence in the AHA has focused attention on her as a woman who has succeeded in a field dominated by men. Although she supports equal opportunities and equal rights for women, she does not like to be considered a feminist.
"I do not completely go along with all the modern women's lib type of activity, and that's why personally I don't like to be referred to as a feminist," she says. "I think women should be in leadership positions, but I don't like the emphasis put on the "woman." It should be on the person's ability to accomplish what any human person can accomplish in that position."
Despite her many activities as AHA official, move." Efforts are being made, he said, to assure that you buy a system for, say, $150,000, the second year you start saving money. hospital administrator and member of local health planning boards, Sister Irene still considers her primary role to be that of a nun.
"Many people say, "How can you do all these things and still be a religious?" Well, I think it's very easy for me," she says.
Sister Irene pauses for a moment, remembering. "Even in traveling. Some people say, "All that traveling! That isn't spending your life for the Lord as you set out to do." You would be surprised. It is most rare that I sit down in a plane and travel the whole distance without the person sitting next to me all of a sudden saying, "Could I talk to you for a minute)"
Sister Irene brings the same clarity and forcefulness to explanations of complex AHA policies.
"I think cost containment is the cirtical issue right now, as we are trying very hard to get the hospitals to voluntarily control their costs and not require it to be mandated by a Congressional act," she says, referring to the Carter administration's hospital cost-containment bill.
Noting that the AHA has done "a fair amount" of lobbying against the present bill and helped kill a similar bill in committee last year, Sister Irene says a voluntary effort by AHA hospitals to lower hospital cost increases by 4 percent beginning in January 1978 would have been a certain success except for large, unforeseen jumps in the overall inflation rate. The success of that program is now in question.
"Please, Mr. Carter," she mimics in a pleading voice, "hold off that bill for a while. If we fail, then come back but at least give us a chance to work out the two years.
"They're driving us batty with their regulations," she declares.
Sister Irene's position with the AHA culminates a long career as a hospital administrator. She taught school for none years after entering the Daughters of Charity in 1941, then enrolled in a nursing program at Catholic University where she received a B.S. in 1952. After working as a nurse and operating room supervisor, she entered hospital administration. Sister Irene has been director of six hospitals since 1955. She received a master's degree in business administration from Florida Atlantic University in 1975.
From 1972 to 1973 she was president of the Catholic Hospital Association, and from 1974 to 1976 she was a member of the AHA Board of Trustees.
"I try to keep it in perspective," Sister Irene says of her achievements, adding that she has viewed each new job as "a better and more beautiful opportunity to serve."
Despite her heavy schedule of work and travel ("it's like holding two jobs") Sister Irene tries to keep personal contact with both hospital employees and patients at Providence. She speaks to all new employees at orientation and maintains an "open door" policy. During weekends she makes rounds at random in the hospital, talking with patients.
Her special gift, Sister Irene feels, is to combine the ability to administer with "a sense of religious values."
"Why God chose me for this, I don't know. I'm very happy in what I'm doing and I wouldn't change it for the world." CAPTION: Picture, Sister Irene Kraus, Director of Providence Hospital and chairman-elect of the American Hospital Assocation.By Craig Herndon - The Washington Post