CHA recognizes contributions of young leaders in the ministry

July 1, 2019


Jenna K. Floberg and her cheering squad celebrate her recognition as a Tomorrow's Leader.
Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr./© CHA
Members of the 2019 Tomorrow's Leaders cohort attend a pre-assembly seminar with senior leaders of Catholic health care. Shown from left are Scott O'Brien, Sara Vaezy and Bryan Lee.
Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr./© CHA
Respect for those who came before, a passion for Catholic health care and an eye toward what it will take to keep the ministry thriving now and in the future: The 2019 class of Tomorrow's Leaders share these traits. Each of the 11 have distinguished themselves as high-performing, adaptive thinkers who bring talent, commitment and fire to their work. (The recipients were all age 40 or younger at the time of their nominations for this recognition.) Here is a look at the individuals honored at the Catholic Health Assembly in Dallas.



Tiffany Capeles
Director, health equity, CHRISTUS Health, Irving, Texas

The daughter of Spanish-speaking Caribbean parents, Tiffany Capeles witnessed her family struggle in navigating health care in the U.S. "I watched my parents manage through everything life threw their way, but health care was this undefeatable, complex labyrinth," says Capeles, 34. "They didn't know where to go or who to go to. From access to cost, to obtaining quality care, health care was an oppressor for my family. When I learned there were other families like us, I embarked on a career to be a voice for the voiceless."

Joining CHRISTUS Health in 2016, Capeles spearheaded the standardization of language access services impacting more than 30,000 patients. She implemented the Qualified Bilingual Staff initiative, a two-day program that has trained more than 400 staff members who speak a second language to interpret for providers and patients. Capeles also was instrumental in organizing unconscious bias training for 1,800 managers who have direct reports.

"She is tenacious and never gives up working to benefit those in need," says Marcos Pesquera, system vice president of community benefit, health equity, diversity and inclusion. "She reaches out to all people, creating a picture of what success looks like that inspires commitment and a vision that all can fight for."

Capeles also helped institute a pilot program for emergency room patients diagnosed with primary hypertension. With a goal to help address barriers preventing patients from achieving optimal health outcomes, a nurse or community health worker follows patients up to six months. Of the 8,000 eligible patients, nearly 70 percent received the care recommended. CHRISTUS is considering expanding the program to include other chronic conditions.

"At CHRISTUS, achieving health equity, diversity and inclusion is not an HR directive, it is a mission imperative," she says.


Dr. W. Carson Felkel II
Lead physician, behavioral health program, Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, Greenville, S.C.

Dr. W. Carson Felkel II has faced a daunting task in directing behavioral health for Bon Secours in South Carolina — the state ranks 50th for access to behavioral health care services. Under Felkel, Bon Secours meets patients where they are to begin to assess and address their mental health needs: in the primary care setting, in specialists' offices, on the streets or in shelters.

"I like the ability to affect change through working with our mission leaders to deliver integrated physical and mental health services into the community, not just have patients come to us," says Felkel, 35.

Among the solutions he oversees is a collaborative care model that embeds behavioral health social workers into the primary care setting. Primary care providers screen for depression, then immediately connect patients in need of help with an integrated care manager in their primary care office who can provide brief therapeutic interventions. Felkel and the social workers work in consultation with a psychiatrist. In the Greenville market, 32 percent of patients identified through these primary care screenings were in remission from depression a year later, Felkel says. This compares with a national average remission rate of 6 percent.

Felkel guides another program in which a community nurse practitioner is embedded in clinic and community settings to screen for and treat depression. "We made it our goal to screen patients for depression at every entry point," he says, including such specialized departments as neurology, pulmonology and endocrinology, "to get (patients) back to their primary care provider to treat behavioral health issues as well."

Felkel helped form a partnership with Jasmine Road, a residential treatment center for survivors of human trafficking. Bon Secours provides trauma-informed physical and behavioral health care at no cost to the program's participants.

"With his personal faith and engaging personality, Dr. Felkel has helped Bon Secours fully embrace those who are truly marginalized," says Alex Garvey, senior vice president of mission for Bon Secours St. Francis Health System.


Jenna K. Floberg
Executive director, Villa Loretto Nursing Home and Villa Rosa Assisted Living, Mt. Calvary, Wis., a member of SSM Health

Losing her father at an early age to cancer led to a special bond between Jenna Floberg and her grandfather. From that relationship, she developed an appreciation for the gifts and vulnerabilities of the elderly.

Since graduating from college, Floberg has worked with Agnesian HealthCare, now part of SSM Health, to improve the quality of life for the residents of Villa Loretto Nursing Home and Villa Rosa Assisted Living. She obtained grants to purchase TVs for all residents and to build a fence around a garden so dementia patients can safely enjoy the outdoors.

Floberg, 30, also directed the facilities through upgrading their electronic medical records system. She leads the effort to standardize practices for three of Agnesian's long-term care facilities, including Villa Loretto and Villa Rosa, in such areas as emergency preparedness, safety/environment of care and supply chain management.

Under her management, Villa Loretto's occupancy in 2018 reached an average of 90.8 percent, 5 percent over its goal The average score for willingness to recommend the facility to others in 2018 was 100 percent, compared to a goal of 90 percent.

"The values that I grew up with align with Catholic health care," Floberg says. "Our work is more than just work. You can feel the mission in action working here. You can feel the culture. You can feel the deeper meaning."

Floberg also has assumed the unofficial role of coach and mentor, says Steven N. Little, former chief operating officer of SSM Health Wisconsin Region. He was president and chief executive of Agnesian when it merged with SSM Health in January of 2018. "This was especially apparent during our integration with SSM Health," he says. "Her positivity and her ability to encourage other leaders made it easier for many to move forward with courage, trust and faith."


Sunny Lay
Director of nursing operations, St. Anthony Hospital, Gig Harbor, Wash.; CHI Franciscan Health/CommonSpirit Health

Sunny Lay found her calling as she watched her grandmother sort through the difficult decision of placing her grandfather in a nursing home. Her grandmother relied on the counsel of the nursing staff where he was a patient.

"I remember how the nurse comforted my grandmother," says Lay, 40. "The compassion she provided our family was something I will never forget."

Since Lay moved into her current role in March 2017, St. Anthony has earned "A" safety grades from the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade report. "Sunny has created a culture at St. Anthony that emphasizes treating the whole person — mind, body and spirit," says Mary Alice Ragsdale, vice president and chief operating officer and chief nursing officer at St. Anthony.

After learning that nurses were missing breaks, Lay started the Break Nurse Program. More than 90 percent of nurses consistently get their meal and rest breaks, an increase from 30 percent. She has reduced registered nurse turnover to 11 percent from 15 percent overall.

"While I do miss directly caring for patients, I realized I am caring for the people who are caring for the people," she says of her decision to move into nurse administration. "I am beyond proud in the way staff communicate and exemplify our values with each other as well as the quality care they provide for our patients."

Lay led the team that captured the national nursing Pathway to Excellence Program recognition for St. Anthony. It is the only hospital within CHI Franciscan to receive this designation and one of only two in the state.

"It was the core team that really led the way," she says. "They were so dedicated to this work that it inspired me as a leader."


Bryan Lee
President and chief executive officer, Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center, Lafayette, La., a member of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System

In his first two years at the helm of Our Lady of Lourdes, Bryan Lee has brought a rigor to operations that has helped the medical center solidify its financial footing and has built bridges to help the underserved throughout southwest Louisiana.

He reached out to one of the region's other large health care providers to collaborate on a community health needs assessment, then guided the system through the purchase of Women's & Children's Hospital from HCA Healthcare. He kept officials from the Diocese of Lafayette closely apprised during the acquisition, merged the hospitals' boards, treated the medical staffs as one and hosted town hall meetings to welcome staff to the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System.

"At every step of the way, Bryan has solicited my input and honored my concerns for the compassionate and ethical treatment of the health needs of women and children in our community," says Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel, prelate of the Diocese of Lafayette.

Though he has spent the majority of his career at for-profit hospitals, Lee started in college as an operating room assistant in a faith-based health system.

"I watched families experience such vulnerable moments and come through stronger. It provided a great sense of purpose in the work," says Lee, 40. "From there, I developed a passion to make a difference for these families and felt driven to pursue a career in health care administration."

Lee gets in the trenches by rounding at clinics and occasionally volunteers at St. Joseph Diner, a soup kitchen that serves some of the hospital's most vulnerable patients.

"It isn't just about making a difference for the patients or our community," Lee says. "Servant leadership is an act of service to God. My desire to be a servant leader firmly connects me to Catholic health care."


Abby Lowe McNeil
Vice president, communications and public affairs, CHRISTUS Health, Irving, Texas

Just as doctors are called to be stewards of healing and administrators are called to steward financial resources, Abby Lowe McNeil feels called to protect and enhance CHRISTUS Health's reputation and name.

"I thought I'd end up using my gifts in a windowless back room somewhere, typing out press releases, but the reality of my work with CHRISTUS has been so much bigger," says McNeil, 37. "I get to come to work every day and make a difference by supporting our ministries and associates."

McNeil led CHRISTUS Health's first intranet redesign, decreasing storage and lowering costs while improving search accuracy. She also launched an internal video communication system that features uplifting stories shared by associates.

"Abby is able to take complicated issues and make them relevant for a variety of audiences, and she does it with humor and thoughtful insight," says Ernie W. Sadau, president and chief executive of CHRISTUS Health.

She directed the operational and marketing strategy for health insurance exchange enrollment that led to more than 200,000 patients signing up in a three-year span. And as CHRISTUS Health has expanded internationally, McNeil directed merger and acquisition communications.

"There's always some new challenge or media inquiry or hurdle to overcome," she says. "There are plenty of problems to solve, and I feel most useful when I'm helping solve problems."


Cody McSellers-McCray
Regional director, community health, AMITA Health, Chicago, a member of Ascension

A college trip to Kenya and Tanzania brought Cody McSellers-McCray's ultimate career path into focus. "The things that I saw there were happening here, too," she says, which led her to earn a master's degree in public health and work with nonprofits and public health organizations in and around Chicago.

McSellers-McCray, 39, joined Ascension's AMITA Health in 2017 "for my dream job. I get to work directly with people and communities, who are experiencing problems that appear to have no solution. I get to provide innovative solutions, through programs, partnerships or policies we forge to help change their lives."

Among her innovations is a partnership with the Chicago Public Library system. Public libraries welcome everyone regardless of race, gender, income or immigration status. McSellers-McCray helped secure funding for a program that allowed AMITA Health to train and certify more than 400 library staff members in mental health first aid. She then convinced AMITA Health officials to fund social workers on-site at the libraries to help patrons with mental health issues, and individuals dealing with homelessness or social isolation. The social workers connect clients to essential social and health services.

"Her vision for the library social worker program exemplifies the collaborative approach to social determinants of health that is at the core of our community health needs assessment," says Elissa J. Bassler, chief executive of the Illinois Public Health Institute.

McSellers-McCray also led the development of an impact evaluation process to ensure AMITA Health makes the most of its resources in public health to maximize outcomes.

"I find that the mission of Catholic health care to serve those with the greatest needs matches well with my beliefs," she says. "The sisters served people who were not represented at the table and provided creative solutions for their needs. Catholic health care has been instrumental in leading the way, and I'm honored to continue their mission."


Scott O'Brien
Chief operating officer, Washington and Montana region, Providence St. Joseph Health, Spokane, Wash.

Scott O'Brien has seen the big picture in health care since his first high school job as a patient escort at a Providence Health & Services hospital, a predecessor to Providence St. Joseph Health.

"I was able to see all different parts of the hospital, interact with patients and their family members, and gain an understanding of health care from the perspective of the patient. It grabbed ahold of me then, and continues to inform my work today," says O'Brien, 39. "I was introduced to our mission and committed to learning more about the many ways we live our mission and serve our patients."

First as chief strategy officer for Providence St. Joseph Health in eastern Washington and now as chief operating officer for its Washington and Montana region, O'Brien has integrated his devotion to the mission with his attention to the bottom line. He helped negotiate a partnership between Kootenai Health and Providence St. Joseph Health that allows each to continue operating independently but better serve residents of eastern Washington and north Idaho. He also oversaw the growth of Providence Medical Group, the physician services group serving eastern Washington, from 40 providers to more than 500 in four years, as well as the development of a telehealth network that serves 19 rural sites in two states.

O'Brien helped create a joint venture behavioral health hospital that doubled the community's inpatient capacity, providing much-needed access to mental health services.

"The impact we have in all the communities we serve every day is fulfilling and rewarding," he says, "especially the impact we have on the needs of the poor and vulnerable."

Elaine Couture, executive vice president of Providence St. Joseph Health and chief executive of the Washington and Montana region, says "I am impressed by Scott's intelligence, his keen strategic thinking and understanding of the imperatives in health care today, but most of all by his passion for the mission."


Peter Powers
Chief executive officer, St. Anthony Hospital, Lakewood, Colo., a member of Centura Health/CommonSpirit Health

His father was a surgeon; his mother was a nurse. "So health care was the family business," says Peter Powers, 40. "I'd spend weekends going on rounds with my dad. It exposed me to the whole world of health care, and I could see the hard work and dedication that it takes to be a caregiver."

Powers' respect for caregivers manifests itself in his approach to engaging staff. Rather than host large presentations, Powers organizes discussion circles at nursing stations or in the facility's departments.

"I like to go to people's own turf and hold a conversation. They're more comfortable and open than they are at a dog-and-pony PowerPoint," he says. "I think we get more in-depth. We talk about things that matter."

Powers also involves staff in thinking big. He organized a physician leadership and team member council to refresh the hospital's 2025 strategic plan. "We'll present fairly significant decisions we're wrestling with and get their input," he says. "We're also trying to use them to spread the word or explain the why."

He has championed Centura's integrative medicine initiative, which incorporates osteopathic treatments including massage, acupuncture and meditation. And he leads by example, participating in health and wellness events. This summer, he plans to ride the Triple Bypass 2019, a 120-mile bicycle race, alongside a St. Anthony Hospital trauma survivor.

"You can always count on Peter to deliver results in a manner consistent with our mission and core values," says Peter D. Banko, president and chief executive of Centura Health. "He is personally on a mission to build whole person care and flourishing communities in Colorado and western Kansas."


Sara Vaezy
Chief digital strategy officer, Providence St. Joseph Health, Renton, Wash.

To provide the best online experience for patients, Sara Vaezy thinks like a consumer. She and the digital innovation group look to other industries like e-commerce and travel and platforms like FaceTime for inspiration to make the experiences familiar and easy.

For example, the digital innovation group developed a digital platform augmented by artificial intelligence to allow for same-day care for patients with low-acuity medical issues.

"If I woke up with a rash or what I thought was strep throat, where do I go?" says Vaezy, 36. "We have the ability to schedule an online appointment at a physical retail clinic or urgent care, conduct a video visit or summon a provider to your home — all integrated into one offering on the web or a mobile app. We help patients and customers decide what's best for them."

The digital innovation group also focuses on third-party digital platforms that engage patients in activities that improve their health between episodes of care. One of them is Xealth, which providers use to get health content, products and services to patients without the need for an office visit.

Vaezy's team also has worked with clinical leadership to test technology that provides a guided digital experience before and after surgery, and digital platforms for diagnosing, treating and managing depression in the primary care setting.

"We're on the frontier, so there's never a dull moment," says Vaezy. "It's really exciting to see how progressive the conversations in health care have gotten and how much we intersect with other industries." In the last two years, more than 90 health systems have visited Providence St. Joseph in Seattle to trade best practices in digital strategy.

"Sara is an exceptional blend of visionary strategist, compassionate leader and hands-on implementer," says Aaron Martin, executive vice president and chief digital officer at Providence St. Joseph. "She is having a broader impact on the larger health care ecosystem."


Heather Wall
Chief nursing officer, PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, Springfield, Ore.

On the athletic fields and among her classmates, Heather Wall rose to leadership, whether as a student council officer or team captain. So, when she decided on a career in nursing, leadership seemed inevitable.

"I was born to be a nurse, and this job is the intersection of being a nurse and being a leader," says Wall, 38. "Both are called to care and serve others."

Wall's commitment to care and service extends to both patients and her fellow caregivers. Last August, she supported the organizing of an Honor Walk to celebrate organ donors and their families at the time of the donor's death. The attending nurse reads a scroll with a message of appreciation, and caregivers stop their duties to line the hallways from the donor's room to the operating room to silently acknowledge the family. The ceremony proved so moving that it has been repeated multiple times and PeaceHealth has decided to institute the Honor Walk system-wide.

Wall also advocated implementing "SelfCare for HealthCare," a program that promotes work-life balance and aims to reduce caregiver burnout and reduce staff turnover. The program will be expanded throughout PeaceHealth.

"I have the daily struggle to keep up with kids and get them to T-ball or wherever they need to be," says Wall, a mother of three. "PeaceHealth has helped me, and we want to help our other caregivers balance their work and their family."

Wall also has worked with her nurse teams to standardize processes that have improved safety and patient outcomes. For example, she and her team developed emergency department strategies that reduced the percentage of patients leaving without being seen to 2 percent, from
7 percent.

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

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