To sustain ministry's sacred work, get vision right

April 15, 2013


As a seasoned executive, Sr. Helen Amos, RSM, knows the value of managing expectations. She wants people to understand that when she delivers the opening keynote address at the Catholic Health Assembly June 2 in Anaheim, Calif., she is not going to have all the answers to the significant challenges currently facing Catholic health care.

Those challenges include managing through a period when health care is being redefined in very fundamental ways requiring new affiliations, incorporating technological advances while remaining cost competitive, and negotiating the complex reset of health care financing and delivery systems as the Affordable Care Act takes full effect, Sr. Amos said.

What Sr. Amos says she will offer — in line with her experience as a health care executive and sponsor and with the assembly's 2013 theme, "Living Mission in a Changing World" — is her insight on what it means to "live mission" in light of these changing circumstances.

Sr. Amos is the executive chair of the board of trustees of Mercy Health Services in Baltimore and a board member of Mercy Health Ministry, the public juridic person of Chesterfield, Mo.-based Mercy. A native of Mobile, Ala., Sr. Amos received CHA's Sister Concilia Moran Award in 2002 for her trailblazing work as a Catholic health care leader.

She also was honored by Pope John Paul II in 1997 with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award for outstanding service to the Catholic Church. She chairs "The Journey Home, Baltimore's Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness."

Succession planning
"People have been asking for several years what is going to become of us when all the sisters are gone and even the memory of the sisters is gone," she told Catholic Health World in an interview from her office at Mercy Medical Center in downtown Baltimore.

"But we are not here to think of ourselves as making do for this diminished presence," she added. "We are here to celebrate the fact that the laity of the church are holding up this sacred ministry and have the opportunity to build on the heritage" left by the women religious who founded Catholic health care.

She said she will tell her assembly audience to "make sure you get the vision right, engage and enable all the people involved, and figure out how this sacred work is going to be sustained."

Agile executive
Appointed in 1992 as president and chief executive of Mercy Medical Center,

Sr. Amos nevertheless considers herself a relative newcomer in Catholic health care. She served as a math teacher, college administrator and as provincial and national leader of her religious order before taking the post at Mercy.

"I came into health care really late in my own ministerial lifetime, and I did not have a clinical background," she said. "I began to perceive that I was standing on a platform that others had built."

The Sisters of Mercy, who founded Mercy Medical Center in 1874 as the Baltimore City Hospital, "built a tremendous amount of credibility that I inherited," Sr. Amos said. "So I have never really lost that sense that I was somebody standing on the shoulders of others."

Committing to downtown
When she and Thomas R. Mullen, now president and chief executive of Mercy Health Services, first came into leadership at the hospital in the early 1990s, they wondered "how in the world we were going to take a marginal operation and set it on a path that had the opportunity to succeed," Sr. Amos said.

Hospital spokesman Dan Collins said many people advised Sr. Amos to move the hospital to the suburbs, but she asked, "'How do we make it work downtown?" Together with Mullen, Sr. Amos answered that question by building centers of excellence within the hospital and creating new partnership agreements to attract leading physicians to the urban campus.

The medical literature in the early 1990s was "recognizing for pretty close to the first time that American medicine in general had relied a lot on white males as the test of whether things worked" and that it needed instead "to pay attention to the diversity of the population, including women," Sr. Amos said.

That aligned with the charism of the Sisters of Mercy, who were "founded with a special concern for women," she said. The alignment "gave me the faith to realize that we should create a center of excellence around women's health" — the first of more than a dozen centers of excellence that have been created at Mercy since that time. The Center for Women's Health and Medicine was launched in 1994.

"That was our first foray into that strategic process, and it proved to be fruitful," she said. "It fit the needs that were being uncovered in the literature at the time; it wasn't pulled from the religious sky. But it matched something that we brought from our religious heritage."

The opening of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center on the campus in 2003 allowed the clustering of services offered through the Center for Women's Health and Medicine that had been spread out in the hospital. In 2010, the hospital opened the Mary Catherine Bunting Center, a more than $400 million, 20-story inpatient medical facility, and it moved its Family Childbirth and Children's Center into two floors there last year.

In addition to expanding Mercy Medical Center — a teaching hospital for the University of Maryland School of Medicine as well as the employer of more than 3,700 people — Mercy Health Services has developed services along the continuum of care. It operates a home health care organization and Stella Maris, a long-term geriatric care facility in suburban Baltimore, as well as a network of community health centers.

In fiscal year 2012, Mercy Medical Center had 16,584 admissions and 2,877 babies were delivered there — the most deliveries of any hospital in Baltimore. There were 65,763 emergency room visits and 111,580 visits to outpatient health clinics.


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.