Karff AwardThe Institute for Spirituality and Health honored Bela Patel, MD, vice dean of Healthcare Quality, and McGovern Medical School with the Rabbi Samuel E. Karff Caring Heart Award for Healthcare as part of a weeklong ceremony in late February.

“What an honor it is to be accepting the Rabbi Samuel E. Karff Caring Heart Award on behalf of the frontline healthcare teams from McGovern Medical School,” Patel said in her Feb. 25 acceptance video. “This is deeply meaningful, especially this past year with the COVID pandemic.

“During this past year, the most outstanding experience is really about the story of resilience. Never have we seen such strength and perseverance to our commitment to the mission of the medical school. McGovern Medical School and UTHealth are not only committed to the well-being of physicians, students, nurses, and the entire UTHealth community but also our entire Houston community. In light of this past year, the work of the Institute of Spirituality and Health has never been more important, and the award being presented never more meaningful.”

The Institute for Spirituality and Health, a charitable organization in the Texas Medical Center, has been enhancing well-being by exploring the relationship between spirituality and health for 65 years. Throughout the week, the institute honored frontline professionals and first responders as part of the annual Caring Heart Celebration.

“Rabbi Karff was a beloved interfaith leader in the Houston community with decades of service to our institute,” the Institute for Spirituality and Health said in a press release. “His limitless empathy and unwavering belief in servant leadership were notable throughout his life’s work as his legacy continue to live on.”

Karff, who died Aug. 15, 2020, was professor emeritus of UTHealth, having served as associate director and visiting professor in the Department of Family Medicine. He founded the Health and Human Spirit program, the precursor to the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, and co-created the Sacred Vocation Program.


  • Healthcare – Bela Patel, MD, McGovern Medical School; and Ken Mattox, MD, Baylor College of Medicine
  • Nursing – Represented by Elda Ramirez, PhD, RN, ENP-C, UTHealth Cizik School of Nursing; Kristen Starnes-Ott, PhD, UTMB School of Nursing; and Betty Adams, PhD, Prairie View A&M College of Nursing
  • Education – Alonzo Reynolds, III, DeKaney High School
  • Food Service – Chris Shepherd, Southern Smoke Foundation
  • Retail – Lisa Helfman, HEB
  • Hospitality – Barry Sondern, Westin Houston Medical Center
  • First Responders – Chief Art Acevedo, Houston Police Department; and Chief Samuel Pena, Houston Fire Department