Program plugs clinic staff into Mercy mission, culture

February 15, 2011

Mercy leaders to highlight formation efforts at CHA assembly


It is common for hospitals and health systems to focus their mission integration efforts on their main, inpatient campuses. That was the case at Sisters of Mercy Health System as well, until system leaders analyzed facility usage data and determined that about 95 percent of patient contact happens in outpatient venues, including those on hospital campuses.

The system is reassessing how well it supports these outpatient settings, and as part of this effort, it has launched a mission formation program to ensure that clinic staff are well-grounded in Mercy's mission and values.

"We know we need to invest time in our clinical practices, because that's where so much of our patient activity takes place," said Michael Doyle, executive director for mission and physician practices for Chesterfield, Mo.-based Mercy.

"All of our locations must have the same standards and the same commitment to the ministry," added Dr. James Dixon, president of Primary Care Mercy Physicians, the Mercy organization that owns the system's physician groups and clinics in Oklahoma. Mercy uses this ownership structure in all four states where it operates.

At a session at the 2011 Catholic Health Assembly, Doyle, Dixon and Donn Sorensen will explain the system's approach to acculturating staff of outpatient facilities into Mercy's mission. Sorensen is chief operating officer for Mercy Clinic, the umbrella organization for all of Mercy's outpatient primary care facilities. The assembly will take place June 5-7 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

Mission 101
At the heart of the formation program that Mercy developed for its clinics is an in-person visit by several Mercy mission experts, a team that usually includes a Sister of Mercy. Session leaders send out a survey before each formation session to assess the group's familiarity with Mercy, and they tailor the session accordingly. During the visit, which normally takes less than an hour, the mission leaders explain the history, charism, mission and values of the Sisters of Mercy congregation and their ministry.

They show a short video history of Catherine McAuley's founding the Sisters of Mercy in 19th century Dublin to help the underserved. It explains how the sisters' ministry spread, including to the U.S. The leaders ask participants — normally about a dozen or so people — how they experience the mission in their daily work.

The staff of Cardinals Kids Cancer Center had their formation training in mid-January. The pediatric clinic is on the campus of St. John's Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis. Doyle and mission leader Sr. Gayle Evans, RSM, asked the eight nurses, doctors and other staff members assembled what it means to them to work at Mercy. Some spoke of how much they appreciate the respect they receive, some talked about their love of working with children in need, some described the affirming atmosphere. Doyle and Sr. Evans engaged the group in a conversation about how the staff members' experiences tie in with the Mercy legacy and values.

"It's important to us that we have enough time for that type of reflection, to talk about how they are connected to the mission," Doyle said.

Branching out
Mercy has been piloting the approach at clinics and other outpatient settings around St. Louis, Oklahoma City and Northwest Arkansas since March. Mercy has hun-dreds of outpatient venues, including dozens of remote, rural clinics. It is testing a second phase of the program, in which "mission extenders," or selected leaders who serve outpatient facilities in the Mercy network, observe a session and then are trained to lead one for their colleagues at their respective work sites.

Mercy is considering using computer-based videoconferencing to meet virtually with staff in remote rural clinics. The goal is to roll the two-phase program out to all Mercy outpatient locations in time, either with in-person or virtual visits, and then to sustain the effort with fresh content after the initial sessions.

Sorensen said the program has been well received. "The doctors and the coworkers love it. They say it gives them a better understanding of the heritage, a deeper sense of purpose."

Walking the walk
Dixon, the Oklahoma leader, said the sessions have a direct impact on patient care. For example, some clinicians may feel hesitant about expressing their spirituality with patients. Participating in a guided discussion about putting mission into practice can show them that it's okay to express their spirituality, and that doing so can enhance care. "This formation program puts legs to who we are, so that we can make a difference in the lives of the people we touch," Dixon said.

Sorensen noted that trends in health care point toward even more focus on outpatient care over inpatient in the future. And, particularly under health care reform, there will be increasing emphasis on relationships among hospi-tals, physician groups and other partners. Clinician formation programs could be beneficial to Catholic health care providers as they bring new partners on board, Doyle said.

"It gives clinic staff an opportunity to pause and acknowledge what the mission means to them," Doyle said. "For many, this has been a renewal of their call to be in the healing profession."

Doyle, Dixon and Sorensen will discuss the approach in their Catholic Health Assembly breakout session, "Formation within the Physician Practice for a New Model of Care."


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.