Emerging leaders find deep purpose in advancing ministry's mission

July 1, 2021



Sharp intellect, a strong work ethic, emotional intelligence, resourcefulness and enthusiasm are qualities that the 2021 honorees in CHA's Tomorrow's Leaders program have in common. Each has traveled a distinctive path to advance and secure the mission of Catholic health care. This year, the program spotlights 11 dedicated individuals, age 40 or younger at the time of their nomination, who use their exceptional talents to strengthen Catholic health care.

Andrew Arai

Andrew Arai
Executive director of mission and innovation, Providence St. Joseph Health, Renton, Washington

As a seasoned project manager, Andrew Arai brings technical and analytic skills to his essential task of integrating Providence St. Joseph Health's mission into all it does to care for its patients and its communities.

"We're a relatively small department, so I get to wear many hats — including developing strategy, building implementation plans, facilitating program launches and evaluating our progress," says Arai, 41. "The variety and the opportunities to respond to new challenges brings joy and meaning to my work."

Described by colleagues as humble, open-minded and collaborative, he facilitated the work that engaged more than 60,000 caregivers, along with partners and community members in a process that culminated in a new mission, vision and values statement after Providence Health merged with St. Joseph Health.

"He is emerging as a great leader for our organization, as well as for Catholic health care," says Denise Bowen, chief of staff for human resources at Providence St. Joseph Health. "He truly bridges our mission and key strategic priorities in a relevant and tangible manner."

He brought his technical and interpersonal skills to bear when he partnered with behavioral health leaders in the development of the Providence Community Care Center in Olympia, Washington. People who are homeless come to the center to access behavioral health, substance abuse services and housing aid.

Arai is overseeing the ministry identity assessment process at Providence St. Joseph Health. "One of our initial findings is that we don't always talk about all of the good work that we do," he says of the systemwide initiative. "I hope that we'll be able to share the incredibly rich stories of service and compassion that we are uncovering."

Providence is employing the CHA Ministry Identity Assessment tool to evaluate performance in areas essential to Catholic identity. Arai was involved in the first pilot of the tool and is now part of a CHA workgroup to update the tool for its second edition.

Doug Baxter-Jenkins

Doug Baxter-Jenkins
Community integration program manager, Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, Tacoma, Washington, a member of CommonSpirit Health

Doug Baxter-Jenkins is a conduit for the practical ideas that percolate from public health and nonprofit organizations working with the underserved in Seattle and Tacoma. He was hired in 2012 to direct the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. The program was recognized as a best practice across CommonSpirit Health, the parent of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.

"There is a recognition that as a health system, we cannot create a healthier, safer community alone. We must work together with community partners," he says.

In 2018, Baxter-Jenkins helped form the system's Community Integration Office and forge partnerships that improve health outcomes, especially in underserved communities. He also is implementing
CommonSpirit Health's Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention & Response Program as an expansion of his work with vulnerable youth.

"The best part of my job is helping people have a voice in big systems," says Baxter-Jenkins, 40. "I can get a foot in a door or be a voice, especially for grassroots nonprofit groups. I can get to people who make decisions and have resources."

Through the spring, in addition to coordinating COVID-19 vaccine events at all the system's hospitals, he worked with community partners and faith communities to set up pop-up vaccine clinics in the low-income and immigrant communities and neighborhoods hardest hit by the virus.

"I have watched this amazing man assemble a team and guide them with the true grace of a servant leader," says Laura Krausa, system director of advocacy programs for CommonSpirit Health. "He inspires and guides the work."

Catherine Kroll

Catherine Kroll
Director, infection prevention, PeaceHealth, Vancouver, Washington

Catherine Kroll is named after an aunt who died of measles at age 8.

"I never got to meet her because she died of what is now a preventable disease," says Kroll, 38. She's devoted her life to eliminating such unnecessary deaths in and out of hospitals. When Clark County, Washington, was the center of a measles outbreak in 2019, Kroll and her team facilitated community vaccinations, vaccine education and immune globulin treatments.

She leads all infection prevention operations across 10 medical centers and the PeaceHealth ambulatory care network in three states, ensuring that infection prevention practices are followed to protect patients and caregivers. She brought all her expertise to bear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kroll helped establish PeaceHealth's incident command center for the pandemic and its COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, where she works to make sure vaccines are delivered safely and equitably.

She also volunteers to aid skilled nursing facilities in Southwest Washington, working to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19. "I was raised in a small community by a family that embraced community involvement, especially for vulnerable adults," she says.

Since being promoted to director of infection prevention in 2017, Kroll also has guided PeaceHealth's strategies that have reduced central line-associated bloodstream infection by 33%, catheter-associated urinary tract infection by 42% and clostridium difficile infection by 12%.

"Catherine has the rare abilities to be seriously fun without being inefficient, to be masterful without being patronizing, and to be determined without being overbearing," says Dr. Robert K. Pelz, medical director of infection prevention for PeaceHealth. "She is a delight to work with."

"When I look around PeaceHealth, I see everyone living the mission and values," Kroll says. "On days when it's tough, you have people around you who inspire you. In turn, I want to be that inspiration to the team that I serve."

Trent Pepper

Trent Pepper
General counsel and senior vice president of legal services, Benedictine, Minneapolis

Since leaving private practice and joining Benedictine as an assistant general counsel in 2012, Trent Pepper has broadened his portfolio to areas that include ethics, end-of-life care and canon law.

As a member of the system's clinical ethics advisory committee he contributed to the development of Benedictine's approach to advance directives and end-of-life decision-making. He's collaborated with leaders to make the admissions process more resident-friendly while meeting legal requirements. Pepper, 38, also leads a knowledge management team that is responsible for identifying and documenting standard practices across Benedictine's communities.

"I have great confidence in Trent's leadership and his passionate commitment to the future of Catholic health care," says Sr. Beverly Raway, OSB, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery. The congregation sponsors Benedictine. "Trent is committed to living and carrying forward Christ's mission of love and healing and considers this not only his work, but a calling in the best sense of vocation in ministry."

Since rising to the position of senior vice president and general counsel in 2019, Pepper also has been involved in the Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery's work toward the establishment of a ministerial public juridic person sponsorship model for Benedictine. "His insights and advice are particularly helpful as we develop and revise the canonical documents for the petition to the Vatican" for approval, says Sr. Raway.

His legal work includes coordinating the transitions of organizations into and out of Benedictine, a system with 30 long-term care communities that serve more than 5,000 residents and their families.

"It is very rewarding to help shepherd an organization into Benedictine, and our mission and core values affect every step of that process," says Pepper.

Kyle Prochaska

Kyle Prochaska
Regional director of planning, design and construction, SSM Health, Madison, Wisconsin

When SSM Health – Dean Medical Group announced construction of a $75 million clinic on its South Madison campus, it decided that the workforce to build it should reflect the diversity of the people it would serve. Kyle Prochaska was charged with meeting goals for subcontracting to businesses owned by minorities and women. He far exceeded the system's goals; work representing over 7% of the total cost of construction was awarded to minority and women-owned businesses. This was accomplished in part by dividing large jobs into smaller components and choosing bids from minority contractors even when it added to costs.

He also exceeded the system's target of giving 8-10% of the total number of hours of paid construction work to minorities, women, veterans and people with disabilities.

Cara Schmitt, project coordinator of mission and ethics for SSM Health Wisconsin, says Prochaska has expanded the definition of stewardship by spending money to promote racial justice and broaden economic opportunity in the Dane County community.

"I'm excited that we can take lessons learned at South Madison and establish a standard framework for inclusion," says Prochaska, 36. "When people think about SSM, they think about exceptional care, not necessarily the planning design and construction of SSM and how we can incorporate inclusion (of minorities and women) every day in all aspects of our business. Hopefully this project can help change that."

Prochaska worked with the Urban League of Greater Madison to offer a seven-week job training program to provide experience and certifications in construction trades.

"Because of Kyle's diligence and management, millions of dollars of labor and contracting expenses are being spent more intentionally to uplift disadvantaged and minority individuals and businesses," says Damond Boatwright, president and chief executive of Hospital Sisters Health System and the immediate former regional president of SSM Health Wisconsin.

"These are the kinds of economic opportunities that do not just change one life or one family; they contribute to improvement across generations."

Megan L. Roberts

Megan L. Roberts
Director, orthopedic services, CHI St. Vincent, Little Rock, Arkansas, a member of CommonSpirit Health

From her first job as a patient care technician at age 16, Megan L. Roberts felt at home in health care — and aimed high.

"That helped me connect the dots to see that there are more pieces in the puzzle than direct providers," says Roberts, 32. "I said jokingly I wanted to be a CEO."

Since then, she has taken a serious approach to learning about all aspects of health care. Joining CHI St. Vincent as an administrative fellow in 2015, she has taken on — and mastered — assignments across the health care spectrum.

After co-authoring a community health needs assessment in 2016, she helped St. Vincent form community partnerships. For example, she championed a program to address obesity in low-income communities by working to help fund soccer clubs and walking paths.

But she learned the most lasting lessons by heading the Leadership Development Institute committee, developing curriculum for quarterly leadership conferences. "In teaching others to lead, I became a better leader myself," she says.

As director of orthopedic services, Roberts has worked with physicians on a co-management arrangement and has led strategic planning efforts to address the shift of orthopedic and spine procedures to the outpatient and ambulatory setting, reducing overhead and the cost to patients.

"Megan works in an environment of respectful collaboration when working with a diverse group of stakeholders who may hold strong opinions on how certain solutions should be implemented," says Forrest Whichard, St. Vincent's former vice president of operations, now regional chief financial officer of AMITA Health.

In the pandemic, Roberts developed protocols in which hospital reception desks became COVID-19 screening stations. "I like problem-solving and improving processes," she says. "I'm not doing the surgery, but if there's an opportunity that's good for the patient, I want to find a way to make it happen."

Michael Talley

Michael Talley
Vice president, clinical operations and virtual care, CHRISTUS Health, Irving, Texas

A frequent patient in emergency rooms as a child because of asthma, Michael Talley's first professional role in health care was as a respiratory therapist. To challenge and change the health system's procedures and practices, he earned a second degree in administration. There, he found that the empathy and compassion he learned from his single mother was just as valuable to his colleagues as it was at the bedside of a patient.

"To get people to work at their max potential, you need to be open to slowing down the business need and understand what they're going through to eventually move forward," Talley says.

"He is an outstanding influencer who has the ability to engage physicians, associates and clinical staff to advance their ability to be modern and responsive to our communities," says Dr. Sam Bagchi, senior vice president and chief clinical officer at CHRISTUS Health. "He employs his gifts for the benefit of the entire CHRISTUS ministry, including his own team, who love and respect him for all he does to help others."

Much of Talley's work centers on telehealth. When he arrived in 2017, CHRISTUS had attempted just 10 ambulatory virtual physician visits across the system. At CHRISTUS Health and across the U.S., the pandemic greatly accelerated the expansion of telemedicine services. Talley and his team launched the telemedicine technology in every CHRISTUS Health ministry early in the pandemic. By late 2020, 25% of outpatient visits were done virtually.

Talley's firsthand experience of how discrimination and poverty can contribute to poor health outcomes has made him a champion of health care equity. He is focused on applying technology to get chronically ill patients with no resources ready access to proper follow-up care. He's guided efforts to make sure patients who are hearing impaired or Spanish speaking can use the telehealth services.

He helped launch remote patient monitoring for people infected with COVID-19 who were not sick enough to be in a hospital. He issued laptops for hospitalized COVID patients to use to call the nurses' station. This allowed nurses to talk to their patients without putting on full protective gear. Talley, 39, also led initiatives to centralize CHRISTUS Health command centers and standardize processes for transferring patients among the system's facilities during COVID surges.

Wes Tidwell

Wes Tidwell
Chief operating officer, Ascension Seton Williamson, Round Rock, Texas; vice president, system diagnostics and laboratory services, Ascension Texas

While in college, Wes Tidwell lost two of his grandparents to infections they contracted while in the hospital.

"It drives my passion to ensure that the work we do is of the utmost quality and that we put the patient first," says Tidwell, 38. "We don't just think of patients as customers or transactions but how to serve the whole person."

Since joining Ascension Seton in 2019, Tidwell has guided a financial turnaround that resulted in an 11.3% operating margin in the 2020 fiscal year. The income sustains the mission of the 149-bed community hospital in suburban Austin.

He is committed to building a hospital leadership team that reflects the diversity of the local community. He is the regional leader in ABIDE — Appreciation, Belongingness, Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity — Ascension's framework to address racism and systemic injustice.

"I have worked with multiple COOs during my time at (Ascension) Seton Williamson over the past 13 years," says Nancy Crouse, chairman of the Seton Williamson Foundation board of directors. "He understands that to do his job he must understand what the associates need to make this a successful hospital. He looks for ways to make this hospital great. I have never seen this hospital run so smoothly."

Tidwell led strategic planning that increased physician recruitment and access to services for the North Austin community, where more than 60% of the residents are Hispanic. He's brought together community leaders to identify ways to plug gaps in mental health services.

"All of those things improve access to care," Tidwell says. "We're recruiting a workforce to make sure they are a part of that culture. That's a natural draw for physicians, nurses and other providers to be part of the mission."

Rainy Tieman

Rainy Tieman
Clinical nurse manager, labor/delivery and OB emergency department, St. Mary's Medical Center, Grand Junction, Colorado, a member of SCL Health

Paying it forward comes without a deadline. Born in Moab, Utah, 75 minutes after her identical twin, Rainy Tieman was rushed more than 100 miles to St. Mary's Medical Center shortly after birth, where the natal care team nursed her through breathing difficulties. Today, she cares for the staff that provides care to new moms and their babies.

Tieman spent the first 15 years of her career bedside, tending to patients, then accepted the challenge "to make sure the nurses have everything they need to take care of patients."

To aid both patients and nurses, Tieman, 37, helped develop a phone app that allows new moms to access information after discharge. Patients can refer to the app for information, freeing the staff from readdressing questions and confusion stemming from discharge plans. About 55% of patients use the app, 85% of whom said that it improved their overall hospital experience. Tieman won a 2020 Nightingale Award for Excellence in Nursing for her role in the app's development and has presented her work at four conferences.

She guided St. Mary's labor and delivery unit in implementing the Obstetric Hemorrhage Patient Safety Bundle, for which the Council on Patient Safety in Women's Health Care awarded St. Mary's $3,300. Tieman used the money to help 12 nurses earn national certification in either inpatient obstetrics or electronic fetal monitoring.

"It's with fresh eyes that Rainy approaches each obstacle, large and small. Rainy has never accepted the concept, 'That's just the way it's done,'" says Emily Marutzky, clinical resource specialist in labor and delivery at St. Mary's. "Although change is never easy, Rainy teaches new changes in a way that feels somehow more simple and manageable to both nurses and patients."

Kimberly King Webb

Kimberly King Webb
Senior vice president and chief human resources officer, CHRISTUS Health, Irving, Texas

The daughter of a nurse, Kimberly King Webb couldn't follow directly in her mother's footsteps. "I pass out at the sight of blood," she says.

Instead, she became a lawyer and worked for a firm with CHRISTUS Health as a client. "Seeing how the nurses and doctors worked so hard for a patient reminded me of my mom's commitment to helping others," she says.

Webb joined CHRISTUS in 2013, steering the system's efforts to take a proactive approach to potential human resources issues and earning praise from her colleagues for her work in diversity and inclusion. She has guided the standardization of HR policies following mergers and acquisitions, created the Lean-in Circle to address issues specific to women in leadership, assisted in creating a resilience program and helped steward resources and inform tough decisions during the pandemic.

"She is able to deliver hard messages in a fair but clear manner and to present a different opinion in a congenial way, backed by facts, without being confrontational," says Jeannie Carmedelle Frey, senior vice president/chief legal officer and general counsel for CHRISTUS. "She is also a warm and supportive colleague, with a ready laugh, implicitly acknowledging the humanity of everyone she encounters."

Webb says she felt she and the human resources team made the biggest system-wide impact following Tropical Storm Marco and Hurricane Laura, which hit southwest Louisiana back-to-back in August 2020. Hurricane Laura was the strongest storm to make landfall in the state in 150 years. CHRISTUS Ochsner St. Patrick Hospital was the only hospital in Lake Charles to stay in continuous operation.

"We worked with logistics and operations to wrap our arms around this," Webb, 39, says of the system's quick delivery of storm aid for employees. "Almost overnight, we got financial support, food and shelter for the associates who lost their homes, and gas to get them to and from work. The notes of thanks from our associates brought tears to my eyes. It was God's way of telling me I was in the right place."

Dr. Baligh Yehia

Dr. Baligh Yehia
Senior vice president, Ascension; president, Ascension Medical Group, St. Louis

Dr. Baligh Yehia arrived at Ascension in 2018 with a wealth of experience in public health. For example, as an undersecretary with the Department of Veterans Affairs, he led a network that cared for over 2 million veterans annually. He founded and directed the Penn Medicine Program for LGBT Health and he was a recognized expert in HIV and health disparities. He's authored more than 100 journal articles.

Under his guidance, the Ascension Medical Group's 10,000 clinicians reported improvements of clinician well-being scores by 33% over two years, which helped the group practice earn the American Medical Association's Joy in Medicine award in 2019. He also established a palliative care strategy to improve patient outcomes and experiences, which resulted in an increase of almost 300% in the number of advance care planning discussions between April and October 2020.

"It's important to always ask, 'How do we meet patients where they are?'" says Yehia, 39. "Through the spread of clinical best practices and shared learnings across our ministry, we can cast a wide net and carry out our vision of providing personalized, compassionate care for those we serve, particularly the vulnerable."

Yehia continues to write, authoring a peer-reviewed study published in JAMA last year that included 11,210 patients treated for COVID-19 at 92 hospitals across 12 states. The study found no difference in all-cause, in-hospital mortality between white and Black patients with COVID after adjusting for age, sex, insurance status, comorbidity, neighborhood deprivation and site of care. "Our findings suggest that once individuals reach the health care system, outcomes are similar regardless of race," he says

"Baligh's leadership and great contributions to health equity exemplify the ways he lives Ascension's mission," says Dr. Joseph Cacchione, Ascension's executive vice president of clinical and network services. "I have no doubt he will continue to do incredible work in the future and be a transformational leader for our industry."

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