Eight young leaders honored for career achievements in ministry

July 1, 2012

CHA recognizes men and women making a difference


At the 2012 Catholic Health Assembly awards banquet, CHA recognized eight young ministry executives as Tomorrow's Leaders for demonstrating the zeal and commitment needed to guide and sustain the ministry's healing mission in the future.

Catholic Health World spoke with the honorees to find out what inspires them to excel.

David M. Belde
Vice president, mission and ethics
Bon Secours Virginia, Richmond, Va.

The Sisters of Bon Secours have a credo: "For us, the struggle for a more humane world is not an option."

That principle resonates with David M. Belde and guides his efforts to integrate mission and ethics into the operations of Bon Secours Virginia, a system of seven hospitals founded by the Sisters of Bon Secours. Belde, 40, says that as he consults on mission and ethics topics at Bon Secours and educates his colleagues on these matters, he raises awareness of the importance of respecting the dignity and individuality of patients. "It matters to me," he says, "that we seek to hear the voice of all people who are impacted by decisions." Health care providers have a responsibility to ask challenging questions about whether the health care delivery system meets people's needs. Integrity is key to him, and the central question is: "Are we living up to what we say we do?"

Belde is focused on "hardwiring ethics excellence" into the work that Bon Secours Virginia staff, clinicians and leaders do. He's established a clinical ethics infrastructure and consultation process. He creates educational programs for colleagues and advances organizational ethics through his work on leadership teams. He also oversees an ethics fellowship program.

As Bon Secours Virginia forges alliances with physician groups, Belde provides input on that process and serves as mission leader for those practices.

Belde's influence extends beyond Bon Secours Virginia. During his seven years at the regional system, he has built relationships with local diocesan leaders and community members. Bon Secours Health System of Marriottsville, Md., taps him for system-level work.

Dougal Hewitt is senior vice president of mission for Bon Secours Richmond Health System. He says Belde "brings a wide array of gifts and talents to our ministry, especially compassion and concern for the vulnerable and underserved."

Josiah (Sy) Johnson
Chief executive/chief mission officer
PeaceHealth Lower Columbia Region, Longview, Wash.

When Josiah Johnson accepted the chief financial officer post at PeaceHealth Lower Columbia Region six years ago, that regional system was in the red and in need of broad improvements. Johnson helped to rally the region's leaders and staff around a vision for improving operations, and the division executed a turn-around that put it in the black. Johnson's efforts helped earn him the chief executive and chief mission officer post in 2009. (All of PeaceHealth's chief executives carry the mantle of chief mission officer to emphasize their dual role as business executives and stewards of the system's mission.)

"Under his leadership, we recovered from a negative financial situation and have been financially healthy since," says Joan Landau, a member of the board of directors of PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center, the facility that anchors the regional system. Landau adds that as chief executive, Johnson has demonstrated exceptional leadership skills. She calls Johnson "a visionary who inspires others and is able to lead groups and individuals on a path toward accomplishing great things."

Landau says that under Johnson's lead, the PeaceHealth Lower Columbia Region continues to see morale improve in its facilities and relationships strengthen with community leaders and organizations.

Importantly, the healthier bottom line has enabled the region to bolster its programs and services for the poor and underserved. For instance, PeaceHealth Lower Columbia helped to establish, and it continues to support, a free medical clinic.

Johnson, 38, says he relishes the challenge of making health care better. He's a glass half full guy. "I think that the health care system in the U.S. is in a place (in which) the opportunity is greater than it's ever been. I think that I'd really love to see us solve the (health system) problems in a contemporary way founded in our values, and I think we have a unique opportunity to do that. I would love to see Catholic health care as a practical matter take on the U.S. health care system transformation and show the world and the country how it can be done best."

Gregory Kearns
Director, strategic management
Bon Secours Baltimore Health System, Baltimore

There is no such thing as routine in Gregory Kearns' work with Bon Secours Baltimore Health System. One day he's helping with facilities planning; the next, coordinating a study of care delivery; and the next, organizing meetings with community leaders.

"I think the thing I enjoy most is that I can walk into work and have no idea what my day's going to look like by the end of the day. I get an adrenaline rush from the variety," says Kearns. But he says what really drives him is seeing "the opportunity for the work we're doing to touch the lives of the community we serve."

Initially hired as an administrative intern, Kearns attracted the attention of Bon Secours Baltimore Chief Executive Dr. Sam Ross, who took note of Kearns' leadership skills and recruited him to help manage the subsystem's New Vision initiative to deepen Bon Secours' work in community-based care. In this role, Kearns sets up focus groups and conducts surveys to get community input on health needs. The information feeds into Bon Secours Baltimore's larger strategic planning process.

Ross says, "I needed a right-hand man who could work well with a wide variety of people, from senior public officials to ordinary citizens, (and) Greg's genuine mission focus, incisive mind, keen listening skills and innate leadership abilities have all proven invaluable to our success."

Now a director of strategic management and still active with the New Vision initiative, Kearns, 32, works closely with Bon Secours executives, community leaders, board members and others to determine how best to improve care for the underserved. He also has been involved with system-level projects with Bon Secours Health System, including managing the capital budgeting process for the system. President and Chief Executive Rich Statuto says Kearns "has tremendous potential to be a powerful force for good in Catholic health care well into the future."

Tracy Neary
Director of mission outreach and community benefit
St. Vincent Healthcare, Billings, Mont.

Prior to joining St. Vincent Healthcare about 12 years ago, Tracy Neary was a television news reporter disillusioned with her constant exposure to the crime and conflict she covered. "The negative environment took its toll on my spirit. (That career) didn't feed my soul. I wanted to be part of the solution" — not just reporting on the problems, says Neary.

When she joined St. Vincent, she found she could have a positive impact on the community, and discovered a career where her desire to serve God is shared and can flourish.

Initially, Neary handled both public relations and community benefit for St. Vincent. In time, community benefit became her full-time assignment. Neary, now 40, takes a strategic approach to community benefit. She put in place a community benefit reporting tool. She coordinates an annual report to the community. She helps secure grant funding including for women's health initiatives and she educates staff about the importance of community benefit activity. Neary also staffs and helps lead a community benefit task force for St. Vincent's parent — Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System.

Carol Beam, St. Vincent senior director of business development, says Neary has "single-handedly brought community benefit to the forefront of everything we do at St. Vincent."

John Felton, president, chief executive and health officer of Billings' RiverStone Health, has collaborated with Neary on some local projects. He says Neary is concerned with the practicalities of community benefit work; and, she "lives the mission to serve the most vulnerable in our community through her words and deeds."

He cites her assistance in developing the Community Crisis Center for low-income people with mental illness and substance abuse issues; and her continual work to support it. Neary "is truly one of the brightest young stars in our local health care community," Felton says.

Reggie J. Ripple
Director, home care services
St. John Health System, Tulsa, Okla.

Key elements of health care reform are geared toward improving how patients transition from one care site to another and toward reducing patient readmissions to the hospital. Effective home care can help providers achieve both goals, and so health systems know they must have the right leadership in place in their home care units.

Key elements of health care reform are geared toward improving how patients transition from one care site to another and toward reducing patient readmissions to the hospital. Effective home care can help providers achieve both goals, and so health systems know they must have the right leadership in place in their home care units.

St. John Medical Center Chief Executive S. Charles Anderson is confident that system is well-positioned in this respect. Home Care Services Director Reggie Ripple "understands the unique pressures facing health care today and recognizes the important role home care services will provide in the future," says Anderson.

Ripple "possesses great integrity and a profound desire to improve the lives of the patients served through his departments," adds Anderson.

It was this desire to serve patients that first drew Ripple to St. John as a newly minted occupational therapist in 1997. Ripple says when he initially conducted observations at St. John while in school, he saw how warmly St. John clinicians treated patients. He also saw sisters and doctors praying at patients' bedsides. He says, "It gave me the feeling inside that this is what's right" when it comes to delivering care.

Ripple earned his master's of public health while working as an occupational therapist at St. John. Since then, he's been promoted to positions of increasing authority and responsibility. Ripple, 38, currently oversees home care and hospice services staff. Administrators say he's a compassionate, high-performing and just manager and a true advocate for patients.

"His leadership style of optimism, enthusiasm and listening has been a tremendous benefit to our home health and hospice programs," notes Dr. Douglas

Schram, medical director of palliative medicine and hospice services for St. John.

Rich Roth
Vice president, strategic innovation
Dignity Health, San Francisco

Great ideas for improving health care delivery can come from anyone working in a hospital or health system. So, as an executive in charge of harnessing such ideas at Dignity Health, Rich Roth looks for ways to tap into the collective wisdom of the system's 60,000 employees, volunteers and physicians. He says he gives them permission to be creative, and helps them to open the doors they need to open to make their ideas work.

One way he does this is through the Greenlight Challenge he initiated two years ago. Dignity Health uses the program to generate and evaluate health care system improvement ideas from associates and clinicians. It funds and implements ideas with promise. Through the initiative, Dignity Health has developed a physician-to-physician communications portal, an online patient community and a system that enables doctors to monitor hospitalized babies remotely via smart phones and similar technology.

Roth, 40, also plays an essential role in strategic planning for the system. He led the team that in 2005 introduced the Community Need Index, an online public health planning tool that pulls data from every ZIP code in the U.S. to identify which communities, or areas, are most in need of community benefit programs. Community benefit planners nationwide may use the tool to deploy health system resources where they are most useful.

Much of Roth's work involves finding novel ways to provide preventive care. For instance, his team has explored the electronic tagging of inhalers to help asthma patients use the drug delivery system appropriately. Roth says health care providers need to empower patients and get at the root of their health concerns, instead of just reacting to health crises.

Bernita McTernan is executive vice president of sponsorship, mission integration and philanthropy for Dignity Health. She says Roth's efforts help the system address pressing health concerns. Roth "understands the gravity and consequences of what we do, and he embraces the work with eagerness and joy," she says.

Danielle Sullivan
Formerly director, nursing services
Saint Joseph's Rehabilitation and Residence, Portland, Maine

Like many elders who unwillingly move into a long-term care setting, resident Mary Greelay initially hated being at Saint Joseph's Rehabilitation and Residence. She didn't want to be away from her home, following someone else's rules. "I even ran away shortly after I was brought here," she said.

When Greelay was brought back to the facility, Danielle Sullivan, RN, was waiting. Greelay recalled, "I was feisty. I didn't want to talk to her or listen to her, but after only a few minutes, I did. She had a way of talking to me — it felt like she really wanted to hear all about how I felt, so I talked and talked" and in time softened up and came to accept the situation.

Colleagues say the interaction typifies how Sullivan helped ease elders' transition into living at the facility. They said her compassion, poise, confidence and leadership skills ingratiated her both to Saint Joseph's residents and to the staff members she led.

In her efforts to work with her staff to improve care quality, safety and efficiency, she is known as someone who was willing to do the work she asked others to do. She is a good listener who was judicious in difficult situations, administrators and staff attested.

Sullivan, 30, said her priority was to equip her staff to advocate for their patients. She urged staff to build close relationships with their patients — an approach that goes against what some eldercare experts recommend. "When you first start in nursing, they say you have to have boundaries; you don't build relationships; you don't get attached." Sullivan believes otherwise. "You need to have that connection to really make that difference that you get into health care to make."

Jonathan Timmis
Senior vice president and chief strategy officer
St. Vincent Health System, Little Rock, Ark.

At 39, Jonathan Timmis is determined to spend his career in Catholic health care. "There is a spirit about the ministry that makes it unique," Timmis says. "It is rewarding and fulfilling to me to work around others who share in that same feeling."

And his passion for the ministry is apparent to those who work closely with him at St. Vincent Health System and in the community. Msgr. Francis Malone, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church and a member of a planning team for St. Vincent, says Timmis "gets it" when it comes to understanding the importance of maintaining a Catholic hospital's presence in the community. "Jon is also a man of faith, with deep roots in the Catholic Church. It is easy to observe that his faith life influences his work in the health care field," says Msgr. Malone.

Timmis is recognized for his ability to rally stakeholders around St. Vincent's top strategic goals and to engage them in carrying out St. Vincent's vision. St. Vincent's administrators say Timmis was instrumental in developing an ambulatory health care complex, a heart institute, a neurosciences institute and a healthy aging center. He also has helped to forge important relationships with other local health care providers.

Timmis says that he sees his work — and that of all members of the ministry — as part of a continuing tradition. He says people in Catholic health care play an important role "in furthering a ministry that has such a deep legacy … (We) are setting a path for future generations."


Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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