CHA leaders praise providers' service and anticipate work ahead on social justice

July 1, 2021


During the 2021 virtual Catholic Health Assembly June 14 and 15, three of CHA's top leaders heralded the work of ministry providers during the pandemic, set out a vision for the association's work and provided encouragement for that work, including ongoing efforts to address inequity.


CHA President and Chief Executive Officer Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, focused on the need for community-level collaboration and a global mindset to confront challenges ahead; outgoing CHA Board Chair Julie Manas keyed in the importance of the ministry's work to address racial injustice; and incoming CHA Board Chair Dr. Rhonda Medows spoke of how and why the ministry should focus its policy and program initiatives on improving conditions for vulnerable, medically underserved populations.

Uncharted waters of the pandemic
Launching the assembly, Sr. Mary invited attendees to "celebrate all that you've accomplished and draw strength and inspiration from one another as colleagues and friends in a shared mission."

She recalled that when the ministry gathered virtually a year ago for the 2020 assembly, providers were navigating the "turbulent and uncharted waters of the pandemic," challenged with supply shortages, operational disruptions and exhaustion.

Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, CHA president and chief executive officer, and Brian Reardon, CHA vice president, communications and marketing, chat on the set of the St. Louis production studio that broadcast the 2021 virtual Catholic Health Assembly.

She said "tired, but undaunted," ministry colleagues carried out the healing mission. Many were "accompanying the dying in the last moments of their lives when their families couldn't be there — providing care despite great risk to yourself and your loved ones."

She expressed gratitude, saying courage and compassion define the people of Catholic health care and set it apart.

Tearing down unjust structures
Responding to COVID built grit and flexibility throughout the ministry — attributes Sr. Mary said will propel We Are Called, Catholic health care's ministry-wide, multiyear effort to confront racism by addressing health disparities and promoting racial and social justice.

Manas is president of Ascension St. Vincent's North Region, part of Ascension Indiana. During her "year-in-review" talk June 14, she explained that much work to address disparities and promote justice already had been underway throughout the ministry well before COVID-19 hit. But the pandemic put in stark relief how much work still needs to be done to address significant gaps in care and outcomes. That, plus the summer 2020 outcry for racial justice, compelled the CHA board to build the new framework for how CHA members can drive best practices in addressing inequity, Manas said. She recalled that a "remarkable" outward sign of CHA members' commitment came when ministry leaders signed the Confronting Racism by Achieving Health Equity pledge.

In remarks during the assembly, Sr. Mary said the ministry will be increasing its focus on addressing the social determinants of health and eradicating the "unjust structures that oppress many of God's children in our country and around the world." The ministry won't do this work alone. It will increase its work with community-level organizations and its knowledge of communities. "We can't understand health equity if we don't understand community," she said.

Aiding vulnerable populations
Medows is Providence St. Joseph Health president of population health management. During a June 15 address, she delineated five population health challenges of most concern to her: promoting health equity for vulnerable populations, investing in rural health care, bolstering eldercare, improving the delivery of mental health care, and addressing the needs of children suffering the fallout of the pandemic.

Medows then described five ways that the ministry can undertake meaningful and impactful change. They are investing in the public health system, reconfiguring hospital services for better efficiency and improved care delivery, leveraging technology and innovation in the most effective way, strengthening primary care and transitioning to a greater degree to value-based care.

Medows said all such work will be grounded in ministry members' mission, vision and values. She said it will be necessary to anticipate and ward off external pressures that will be barriers to this work, and she said the tactics will need to be adaptable to evolving conditions.

Partnering for change
In her June 14 state of the association talk, Sr. Mary expanded upon some of the priorities ahead for CHA in the 2021-2022 fiscal year. On the federal level, the health equity initiative will include advocacy to expand health coverage subsidies, to increase Medicaid funding and coverage and to bolster safety net programs.

The pandemic has increased awareness of what it means to be a global community, Sr. Mary said during a brief interlude June 14 in which she answered questions from assembly co-host Carol Daniel, a broadcast journalist in St. Louis. The Vatican, through the work of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, is a key advocate for global health equity. Sr. Mary is a member of that dicastery representing the Catholic health ministry.

"Jesus walked the face of the Earth and told us very clearly we are all God's children," Sr. Mary said. "If we don't come together collectively, we'll never address the crisis the world faces."

CHA supports the Biden administration's decision to bring the U.S. back into the World Health Organization, its pursuit of comprehensive immigration reform and its urgent attention to climate change concerns. The association also is advocating for equitable global vaccine distribution. "No one is safe unless all are safe," Sr. Mary said.

"Together, we've achieved many great things," she said, but "our best days are before us."

Copyright © 2021 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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