Serving in the spirit of the Gospel at a time of hope and challenge

July 1, 2019

2019-2020 Chairperson
CHA Board of Trustees

It is an honor to work with and represent the people of Catholic health care. I am aware that I take on this role at a time of great hope and great challenge.

At this year's Catholic Health Assembly, we paid tribute to Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, and marked the transition of CHA executive leadership from Sr. Carol to Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM.

Kevin Sexton
Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr./© CHA

We are thankful for the career of service of Sr. Carol, and especially her extraordinary contributions to Catholic health care as a nurse, as an executive and then as chief executive officer of CHA where she represented and advocated for all of us while urging those working in Catholic health care to be the best servants of the Gospel. Sr. Carol served with great dedication and clear principles. Her faith in God and in all of us sustained her in the cauldron of public life in America — a tough place to be these days.

Catholic health care was blessed to have Sr. Carol, and I thank her on behalf of all of us.

We are also thankful and hopeful that Sr. Mary has stepped up to lead Catholic health care forward in a tumultuous world. Sr. Mary will be a great leader as a woman religious with the broad experience, the personal confidence, the interpersonal skills, and the faith to take on this leadership challenge and succeed.

It is a privilege to work with the CHA board, the association's executive team and staff and especially with all of you. Our task is clear: Work together to bring our skills, our experience, and most importantly, our commitment to serving in the spirit of the Gospel to the benefit of the people of this country, especially those who are most in need. We are here for those who the Gospel says hunger and thirst for justice.

A quarter century ago, I had the opportunity at a CHA assembly to make the opening presentation about the importance and relevance of mission in achieving true success in Catholic health care. Those were also challenging times. A new company called Columbia/HCA was devouring health care entities like a giant Pacman; and serious (although misguided) people were predicting that U.S. health care delivery would soon be controlled by three to five companies. It was not clear how Catholic health care would survive in these circumstances.

But Catholic health care did survive the 1990s and indeed has often flourished. In a rapidly consolidating health care sector, Catholic systems came together in the mid-1990s under CHA's facilitation for a deep dialogue, thoughtful analysis of market trends and clarification of ministry goals in a process called the "New Covenant." The New Covenant promoted collaboration as a way to strengthen the ministry and secure its values-based health care.

Today, we again find ourselves facing heightened challenges and risks. Attacks on Medicaid, the stresses on the Medicare Trust Funds and the consolidation of payer strength tell us that we must be proactive and smart in defining and leveraging our strengths in the interest of our mission.

What are those strengths? Catholic health care has institutions today that dwarf their size and capacity in the 1990s in ways we probably couldn't have imagined when we embarked on the New Covenant. We have built highly integrated delivery systems, increased financial and operational strength and developed far more sophisticated tools.

But at a time when public trust in large institutions is wavering, our greatest strength is you and the people on the ground in our institutions who prove Catholic health care is different in ways that matter to real people. If our staffs and the general public believe that being a Catholic health care provider means that patients will be treated lovingly and skillfully when vulnerable and in need, and if it means that our institutions take demonstrated business risks through their service to the poor in the spirit of the Gospel, we will have a great future.

I believe this because of faith, but also because I have seen it.

The Catholic system I served, Holy Cross Health, was successful during this decade in gaining approval to build a new hospital and related capacity. It bested fierce competition for that right and did so in a highly regulated state that had not approved a new hospital in over 25 years. The new facility was constructed on public land — the county's community college campus — something that had not been done before in the United States, overcoming objections about separation of church and state. That success was a direct result of mission-driven planning and action.

Many years before submitting the certificate of need application for the new hospital, at a time of crisis due to a lack of prenatal care for poor immigrants, our institution alone in a county of 1 million people stepped up to create the Maternity Partnership with our county government. We weren't the biggest health provider, we surely weren't the richest, but we were following the Sisters of the Holy Cross who taught us to "see a need, meet a need."

By the time we opened that new hospital, over 20,000 poor, pregnant women had been served by the Maternity Partnership at our institution. In addition, we had provided gynecological care and primary care at six sites and were providing 50,000 visits per year to people who had no other access to health care.

In opinion surveys and government deliberations on the CON, the respect we had earned for doing what was consistent with our mission carried the day. That is why I believe mission fulfillment is our greatest strength.

So how should CHA relate to this effort? The CHA board's focus is on helping Catholic health care thrive. We believe that thriving means that Catholic health care is:

  • respected as a Catholic ministry by the church and the public.
  • broadly appreciated as a servant of — and an advocate for — the poor and the institutions that serve the vulnerable.
  • sustainable due to its demonstrated excellence, its special standing as a defender of those in need, and its wide range of positive community relationships, including ever stronger relationships with other Catholic institutions.

As long as Catholic health care leaders keep a central focus on innovation, adaptation and service in the spirit of the Gospel, that future is possible.

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

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