Responsibility of long-term care mission leaders evolves

February 1, 2011


A recent December morning found Sr. Kateri Theriault, OSF, hunting for a cheap but reliable car for an employee of St. Leonard, the Centerville, Ohio, nursing home where Sr. Theriault serves as mission integration director.

The staff member who needed the car is raising a family member's two children on her own. She hit hard times last fall, and Sr. Theriault had helped her get a grant from an employee assistance fund, and groceries for Thanksgiving.

Supportive friend is just one role Sr. Theriault fills. Like most mission leaders in nursing homes, she has a long and varied list of responsibilities. She orients and educates employees about St. Leonard's mission to provide compassionate care in line with the facility's faith-based values. She reinforces that message with events celebrating the facility's heritage. She consults with residents and their families on their care plans and end-of-life decisions.

And, increasingly, Sr. Theriault is at the table when senior leaders discuss operating plans.

Many mission leaders in long-term care have begun participating in high-level strategy meetings, said Brian Yanofchick, CHA senior director of mission and leadership development. That's because the Catholic health ministry is reenvisioning the role of mission leaders and challenging them not only to work one-on-one with staff and residents, but also to function on a more strategic level than they may have in the past. CHA has been advocating, particularly in recent years, for mission leaders to participate in operations planning, to have a role on the senior leadership team and to interact with the board. The association has said long-term care mission leaders need to have a firm grasp of the long-term care field so they can be a credible voice for the mission in such discussions.

Vicky Schneider, director of mission services for Felician Village of Manitowoc, Wis., has taken up that challenge. "I think that it's necessary to have the mission leader role change if the mission is going to continue at the facilities where there are fewer sisters present in leadership roles," she said. "There has to be that voice for the mission when decisions are made. Anything that involves operational decision making, financial decisions — they all have to be in line with our mission and values."

CHA's Yanofchick said that mission leaders who become more strategic and forward-thinking will be better prepared than others as the federal health reform law is implemented. They will be able to help ensure the integrity of the Catholic health mission amid changes in care delivery, he said.

Wired into the community
Yanofchick said part of being more strategic is to make sure that a facility is well-connected to its community. To this end, mission leaders are seeking expanded reach inside and outside of their organizations. Michael Sanderl, vice president of mission integration for Carondelet Health of Kansas City, Mo., created an advisory council and recruited 100 employees to serve on mission integration teams at two acute care and three long-term care facilities he serves. The teams will brainstorm how best to integrate the mission into Carondelet's work.

Matthew Lohmeier, director of mission for Bon Secours St. Petersburg Health System in Florida, hopes to deepen the impact of Bon Secours' mission by interacting with members of parishes around St. Petersburg Health System and involving them in Bon Secours' long-term care facilities, for instance as volunteers.

Lohmeier said he hopes that his work and that of other mission leaders unites staff members and community members in "taking ownership of this ministry, to serve people who have been overlooked.

"If we can provide this care in a way that honors people's dignity, we can tap into the Gospel message by providing love in a tangible way."

Touching every task
The core of mission leaders' work continues to be centered on employees. That is because employees make mission tangible.

For Lohmeier at Bon Secours, the effort to ensure a good mission fit with employees begins before they're hired. He or another mission expert interview every job candidate at Bon Secours St. Petersburg and assess the individual's empathy and desire to support the system's mission to bring compassion to health care, particularly for those who are poor and dying.

After employees are hired, the mission leaders orient them to the mission. Then throughout the year, through educational sessions, events and discussion, the leaders reinforce the mission with all employees.

It is rewarding when mission education takes hold, said Sr. Geraldine Paluszak, OSF, director of mission integration at Rosary Care Center of Sylvania, Ohio. The facility is part of Franciscan Services Corporation. She described a long-time Franciscan facility employee: "I have seen this young woman grow in her own maturity, particularly in our mission and values. She really became a servant leader. And I can say that about so many of our other employees."

Kathy Callahan, mission integration director for Mary Immaculate Health/Care Services in Lawrence, Mass., said she enjoys "seeing people get it and seeing that they see the whole picture. It's when the CNA who maybe had a bad day cares enough to stop before they leave and help a resident get into a wheelchair — that's what it's all about."

Help in crisis
When employees are experiencing stress — whether at work or in their personal lives — mission leaders like Callahan can assist. She helped staff members to access assistance after a 2006 flood; she coordinated aid for workers impacted by last year's earthquake in Haiti; and she has assisted low-income workers in getting resources.

Schneider of Felician Village said employees deal with emotionally taxing situations, including the decline and death of residents they love. By providing memorial services, spiritual resources and counsel, mission leaders help staff cope.

This aspect of the mission leader role makes for close relationships, said Sr. Theriault of St. Leonard. "The piece that I love the most about this is serving employees as both listener and mentor."

She added, "If our employees are well taken care of, and have a sense of our mission and core values, then our residents will be taken care of according to our mission and core values."

Support for patients and families
Most long-term care mission leaders also interact regularly with residents and families. "When you work in long-term care, you are working right there in the residents' living room," said Lohmeier, of Bon Secours St. Petersburg.

Sr. Paluszak of Rosary Care Center regularly walks the halls chatting with the priests and sisters who live there. "Visiting the residents and hearing their stories, that is very rewarding and is worth everything I do," she said.

Stretched thin
Sanderl of Carondelet said that "when mission integration is done well in an organization, there is no group of individuals within the organization and no department or unit where I don't have a role, a voice and a place at the table." While that's a plus for the organization, the mission leader can be stretched thin.

At Bon Secours St. Petersburg, Loh-meier's influence extends to many areas, including human resources, stewardship and advocacy. "You become a jack-of-all-trades," he said. "It can be hard to prioritize where to put your time and energy."

Adding to the workload, some systems are reducing their mission leader head count because of budget pressures and assigning surviving mission leaders responsibility for multiple facilities within a system, Lohmeier said.

Lohmeier thrives on the pace, and the diversity. "No day is like the day before. There is so much variety and opportunity to interact with a lot of different people. There's a real opportunity for intimacy with residents and staff," he said.

CHA seminar

CHA is hosting a seminar for mission leaders in long-term care in St. Louis March 14 to 16. It will provide resources to mission leaders to help them handle the challenges of serving in a long-term care facility and will provide professional development, networking and personal renewal opportunities.


Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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