From uncertainty to hope: observations from a most eventful year

July 1, 2014

2013-2014 chairperson
CHA Board of Trustees
President and chief executive
St. Joseph Health, Irvine, Calif.

As is traditional for the CHA chair-person, I traveled to Rome this spring with a group of executives to attend CHA's Ecclesiology and Spiritual Renewal Program for Health Care Leaders. Layered on this incredible experience was a perfectly timed opportunity to witness the historic canonization of two popes. There we were, among the throngs of Catholics, young and old, so jubilant in celebrating these two great men who provide us inspiration for leadership during changing times.

Popes John XXIII and John Paul II responded to their calls with unique charisms, gifts and leadership. One helped revolutionize Roman Catholicism, encouraging it to breathe a new spirit of change. The other was a leader central to a revolution occurring outside the church, opposing communism and welcoming back those whose spiritual lives were shuttered for several generations. They were brave leaders who heard the tenor of their times, offered their diverse and merciful gifts and, ultimately, gave us abundant hope for the future.

As Catholic leaders, let us consider the pontiffs' lessons of responding to our time in ways that are courageous, relevant and hopeful. I began my term with a speech to the Catholic Health Assembly that emphasized the uncertainty of our current era. I asked us to muster all our courage as we jumped, full force, into this new period of changing health care. I encouraged us to ignore the demons of doubt and to act with faith.

Now, after this eventful year, time has lifted some of our uncertainty. With reform under way, we are seeing several positive signs. It is clear that the change we advocated for just a few years ago has begun to yield good outcomes. We can be very pleased that the Affordable Care Act has helped 8 million people enroll in private health insurance plans. It also produced many needed benefits and protections, increased access, gave adult children the option to stay longer on their parents' policies and ended the practice of denying coverage for preexisting health conditions.

This is not to say our work is done. We need to extend health care coverage, including for the undocumented who have struggled so much to improve their lives. We also hope to advocate for Medicaid rates that allow our ministries to continue as a safety net. And we must convince certain states that expanding access to Medicaid protects families and, ultimately, their regions' own economic well-being.

Additionally, we must dedicate substantial work and thought to Catholic identity issues. Catholicism's deep belief in community encourages us to find new, like-minded partners, especially during this period when there is so much change and work to be done. This coming together is inherently aligned with our interest of continuing Jesus' mission of love and healing. Yet, as we join in these partnerships, how do we ensure those elements of our identity, so essential to who we are, remain intact for this and future generations?

The issue of Catholic identity naturally engenders hard questions. These questions require us to examine our organizations, asking us to focus on how deeply we are motivated by the tenets of our Catholic faith. In these times, it is sometimes tempting to partner for economic reasons without fully acknowledging the impact on mission and values. We must continue to hold ourselves to the core of our identity and have those difficult conversations.

No one ever said any of this would be easy. But we do know even more positive change is possible. After starting my term with a call to faith, I wrote at Christmastime about the miracle of transformation — that great things occur when we build and grow on our enduring values. I believe this now, more than ever.

Let me give you just a few more reasons that have ignited my optimism. In January, I traveled with Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, and other representatives of CHA to Haiti, where we oversaw the progress of our reconstruction of St. Francis de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I am thrilled to report the facility is rising anew, with completion plans scheduled for January. This structure is a testament to the people and organizations that would not abandon Haiti when its story faded from news reports. Also, we can continue to be encouraged by systems across our ministry that expand our footprint across the globe, either through sending teams on mission work or forging new relationships with health care systems in other countries.

And, of course, we are all inspired by the new pope who continues to be a source for hope, light and mercy in the world. As I have experienced myself in our executive committee visits to the Vatican, the "Francis effect" has widespread influence. I am so pleased to report that our group representing American Catholic health care was embraced with collegiality, support and, yes, optimism.

And so, I'm ready to pass the torch to Alan Yordy, who I know will serve you well. His new leadership, and that of all other leaders who will follow him, will be different. This, too, is cause for confidence. When we embrace our Catholic legacy, strengthen our identity, assess the needs of our times and use our unique gifts to answer the call to leadership, we will continue to build a great future.

Thank you for the opportunity to lead this organization that is so abundant in talent and, every day, continues Jesus' mission of love and healing.

Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through him who strengthens me.


Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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