Catholic health ministry: A future inspired by the Holy Spirit

July 1, 2019

2018-2019 Chairperson
CHA Board of Trustees
President and chief operating officer
Trinity Health, Livonia, Mich.

As of this writing, I have served in leadership roles in the Catholic health ministry for over 30 years. And while I've had many amazing experiences, one of the highlights has been the blessing and honor to serve as your chair of the CHA Board of Trustees for this past year. I have had the privilege of developing relationships and friendships with so many colleagues who are passionately committed to our healing ministry.

Michael A. Slubowski
Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr./© CHA
Working with Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, the CHA staff, fellow board members and the CEO search committee has been a life-changing experience. And while the search process took up the majority of my time as board chair, the association's staff has moved forward many important initiatives in advocacy, sponsor formation and leadership formation. Project Legacy, the Ministry Identity Assessment tool and the launch of a Catholic Clinical Ethics academic program in partnership with Georgetown University and Catholic University of America are a few recent examples of advancements that demonstrate value to all members of CHA.

We are so grateful for Sr. Carol's contributions to the Catholic health ministry. She exemplifies the words, "caring spirit." I have grown more deeply in my faith and my commitment and resolve as a Catholic health care leader as a result of observing Sr. Carol's unrelenting and unflappable commitment to ministry and to advancing — in body, mind and spirit — the human condition for all people, regardless of means, race, religion or creed.

I am grateful for the work of the CEO search committee in vetting candidates to recommend to CHA's board. We are excited and blessed to have Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, as the association's new president and chief executive officer. As CHA's vice president of sponsorship and mission services and in prior leadership posts with her congregation, Sr. Mary has demonstrated her leadership skills. During her decade with CHA, Sr. Mary has connected with many colleagues and leaders across our ministry and visited many of our ministries. She will "hit the ground running" to advance CHA's three pillars — advocacy, church relations and Catholic identity, and member engagement. She and Sr. Carol have been great partners, and the transition will be smooth.

From a national perspective, this has been another year of changes and challenges for the Catholic health ministry and for CHA. We've had to play a lot of defense with our advocacy efforts. We've defended against continued attempts to weaken or repeal the Affordable Care Act through both legislative and administrative actions; attempts to reduce or eliminate 340B drug pricing supports; and efforts to introduce waivers or block grants for Medicaid.

More and more Medicare members are moving into Medicare Advantage products, and health systems are being treated as commodities by payers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is attempting to de-risk and shift all responsibility for cost of care to payers and providers. In the private sector, egregious actions by payers to deny payment for care under the pretense of lack of medical necessity have escalated. Various proposals for health coverage have been proposed, including "Medicare for All." We've seen more states passing bills to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Finally, we've seen several Catholic hospitals close or be sold to secular and for-profit organizations.

It would be easy to throw up our hands and give up, but we aren't succumbing to downward spiral thinking. We are inspired by the Holy Spirit to stay open to possibilities — to seek a better way, to support the people and communities we serve with health care, that most personal of human services.

I am so encouraged by the ways in which Catholic health care providers are attending to excellence in health delivery and advocacy for health care access for all, and I'm inspired by our important work to move upstream and address the social influencers of health that can lead to healthier communities. We are partnering with others and using the resources we have to move outside of traditional health delivery and provide social support — housing, food, behavioral health, education, employment — to improve health status and life quality for those on the economic margins. Our award winners at the Catholic Health Assembly are examples of this commitment. There are thousands of proactive, collaborative initiatives around social determinants of health across our membership.

With Kevin Sexton, CHA's 2019-2020 board chair, and Sr. Mary leading the effort, CHA soon will begin work on the association's next strategic plan. We will strive to approach this work with openness and a "beginner's mind," and we will engage the membership at large in a consideration of how the Catholic health ministry can thrive and how it can be distinctive in carrying out and advancing our shared mission. Some of the questions that will be addressed include:

  • How can we differentiate ourselves from other providers in a significant way — beyond "balanced scorecard" measures that everyone measures on cost, quality, safety, stewardship?
  • What would motivate more communities to seek a Catholic health organization to expand in their communities?
  • How can we create a brand reputation that makes Catholic health care ministries the "go to" place for care in our communities for all populations — people who are underserved as well as those who are insured — thereby contributing to growth and sustainability of the ministry?

These, and many other questions, will be addressed by all of us as we work together on an exciting future for CHA and the Catholic health ministry at large. There is a hopeful future for us if we keep our mission and values at the forefront and remain open to the Holy Spirit for inspiration and guidance as we create a better future for the people and communities we serve. God bless all of you as you engage with CHA in the creation of a better world that furthers God's plan for us while on this earth — to serve and love one another.



Copyright © 2019 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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