Supportive Care Coalition becomes part of CHA, cementing partnership

January 2021


The Supportive Care Coalition, an organization that promotes excellence in palliative care, became part of CHA Jan. 4.


"We will be stronger and better working together on behalf of the seriously ill and those that care for them," said Denise Hess, the coalition's executive director, who became director of supportive care for CHA.

Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, CHA president and chief executive officer, said that the coalition's "commitment to outstanding palliative care in accordance with Catholic teachings and ethical principles is perfectly aligned with CHA's mission to provide high-quality health care to all persons in need, particularly those who are poor and vulnerable."

The integration of the coalition into CHA will enhance palliative care programs and services to CHA members and "create a strong and unified voice for enhanced funding and support for outstanding palliative care at the state and national levels," Sr. Mary said.

CHA and the coalition have been close partners since the Supportive Care Coalition's 1994 founding. The two organizations have collaborated on national palliative care and advocacy initiatives, and CHA representatives have served on the coalition's board. Three CHA member systems founded the Supportive Care Coalition, and numerous CHA member systems and facilities are coalition members that participate in the organization's educational programming and use its palliative care resources.

Based near Portland, Oregon, the Supportive Care Coalition was funded by the dues of its 14 members: the Archdiocese of Boston, Ascension, Avera Health, Benedictine, the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, CHA, CommonSpirit Health, Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System, Mercy, OSF Healthcare, PeaceHealth, Providence St. Joseph Health, the Sisters of Charity Health System and SSM Health. Predecessor organizations of Providence St. Joseph and CommonSpirit as well as PeaceHealth founded the Supportive Care Coalition. It was originally called Supportive Care of the Dying: A Coalition of Compassionate Care.

The coalition's annual budget is about $350,000. With the change, CHA members no longer pay membership dues to the coalition.

Hess will work with staff in CHA's mission, ethics and advocacy practice areas to develop and implement programs, resources and services to advance palliative care across the continuum of care in the ministry.

Hess said under CHA, she expects this palliative care programming to reach a much broader community of caregivers. She also expects an expansion of the reach of palliative care services.

"Too many communities of color still do not have equitable access to quality health care. This same lack of access is true for hospice and palliative care." There also is a lack of high-quality palliative care services in small and rural facilities, she said. These gaps will be addressed by future CHA programming, Hess said.

An ordained Presbyterian minister, Hess holds master's degrees in marriage and family therapy and in divinity. She was first drawn to the palliative care field as a clinical pastoral education intern at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, California.

She recalled a patient who was dying of cancer but was in denial about the seriousness of her illness, and whose family was in turmoil. Hess observed the facility's palliative care team preside over a family meeting, facilitating "a deep and honest conversation about this woman's values, beliefs, joys and sorrows. The meeting led to a plan to help her die at home with her family at her bedside.

"At the end of that meeting, I knew two things," Hess said: "First, when my time comes to die, I want to be treated with the same compassion and skill. Second, I wanted to work as a chaplain in palliative care and be a part of the re-humanization of serious illness care that had begun several decades ago with the hospice movement."

Hess has worked in Catholic-sponsored palliative care for a decade. Of her three years with the Supportive Care Coalition, she said, "the greatest rewards have come from watching the new growth and commitment to standing up palliative care programs in Catholic health ministries. Catholic health care was an early adopter of palliative care and remains a leader in supporting palliative care across the continuum of care."

Copyright © 2021 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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