CHA celebrates the contributions of young leaders making their marks in ministry

July 2023



Though their chosen fields are diverse, the 10 individuals in the 2023 class of Tomorrow's Leaders have in common drive, intelligence and vision — attributes that would ensure success in any field. Fortunately, a desire to use their gifts to benefit others and advance the common good led them to careers in Catholic health care. CHA's Tomorrow's Leaders recognition celebrates their achievements and the potential of these individuals, all of whom were age 40 or younger at the time of their nomination by colleagues.

John R. Albright Jr.

John R. Albright Jr.
Director of Home Care and Georgia Infirmary
St. Joseph's/Candler Health System, Savannah, Georgia

With a mother and sister who worked in nursing homes and a wife who is a nurse, John Albright Jr. says he "learned from compassionate, caring, empathetic individuals and wanted to go from there." He found his niche as director of home care and the Georgia Infirmary in the St. Joseph's/Candler Health System.

The historic infirmary was founded in 1832 as the first hospital in the nation to care for African Americans. Today it manages health care and supportive social services for about 1,200 elderly and disabled Georgians through one of Georgia's Medicaid waiver programs. The infirmary's main campus in Savannah includes an adult day care facility, a primary care clinic and case management services. Program participants qualify for nursing home care in southeast Georgia, but are able to safely remain in their homes and community with the case management and supportive services. The home health division provides skilled nursing, therapy and social work services through three regional offices in southeast Georgia.

When Albright took charge in September 2018, he identified significant areas for improvement in home health and infirmary operations. Albright helped guide restructuring of staff and operations and the upgrading of software to streamline procedures. Over four years, the departments erased deficits and became positive financial contributors.

"It's easy to get siloed," says Albright, 40. "So, I think establishing relationships and completing the integration of our departments into the St. Joseph's/Candler Health system helped a lot. We can cover the entire continuum of care. We want to help people at any point in their life. Health care here knows no boundaries."

"In mission-directed fields, leadership requires more than work ethic and talent," says Edward O. Henneman Jr., chairman of the board of trustees of the Georgia Infirmary. "It requires genuine commitment to mission and a sense of compassion and devotion. It requires uncompromising ethics and a sound moral foundation. It is in these less tangible areas that John leads all of us."

Elliott Bedford

Elliott Bedford
Director, ethics integration
Ascension Indiana Ministry Market, Indianapolis
Ascension Kansas Ministry Market

Elliott Bedford helps guide Ascension's discernment by contributing to strategies that encourage dialogue on issues such as social justice, care of the poor and vulnerable, addressing the social determinants of health, and promoting and defending the right to life. His inspiration comes in part from his wife, Theresa, "a nurse by training, who always helps me stay grounded in the practical realities of health care," says Bedford, 38.

"I love the Catholic Church, and Ascension works to put the church's mission into practice in tangible, meaningful ways."

Grounding ethics in practical applications, Bedford has played a part in guiding Ascension's ethics programs in his home market and nationally since 2014, introducing a proactive approach to integrating ethical decision-making into discussions of plans of care with patients, family and staff. He has contributed to procedures for embedding ethics team members and resources in hospitals in the Indiana market so that the ethical dimensions of care are addressed as close to the bedside as possible. He also leads in the integration of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services into policy and a monthly teleconference on ethics, which has expanded nationally throughout Ascension.

He helped found Ethos, a journal of ethical reflections, case discussions, art, poetry and personal essays from Ascension Indiana's ethics committee. To train next-generation ethicists, Bedford created a summer intern program for undergraduate students, several of whom have pursued graduate degrees and jobs in Catholic health care. Bedford's next goal is to assist in developing and implementing consistent, systemwide standards for clinical ethics services.

"Elliott is a person of faith and a servant leader who focuses on advancing the mission, values and goals of the organization and on the development of others, helping to empower them to grow and excel in their own roles," says Dan O'Brien, a member of the Ascension Sponsor, the system's ministerial juridic person, and CHA's sponsorship and canon law advisory council. "He shines the light on others, not on himself."

Dzenan Berberovic

Dzenan Berberovic
Chief philanthropy officer
Avera Health, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

After her husband was killed in the Bosnian civil war, Emira Berberovic fled the country with her 3-year-old son, Dzenan Berberovic. They lived in Germany for six years, much of it in a refugee camp run by women religious. The pair emigrated in 1998 to Sioux Falls, where Emira Berberovic worked two jobs to make ends meet.

Dzenan Berberovic earned a full scholarship to the University of South Dakota. He majored in public relations. "The scholarship showed me the importance of giving back and how generosity can change someone's life," says the 34-year-old. "When I was in college, I aspired to work in philanthropy, rarely believing that I would lead fundraising efforts for an organization the size of Avera."

He joined Avera in 2017 and was promoted to chief philanthropy officer in March 2020 with a charge to complete the unification of Avera's disparate philanthropy efforts. The system's combined philanthropic support averaged $17.7 million a year between 2016 and 2020. Under his guidance, the Avera Foundation increased funds raised to more than $46.6 million in 2022. Major gifts have increased by 35% since Berberovic led the transition from fund raising based on events to a relationship-based model.

"This work is a team sport," Berberovic says. "It takes partners who believe in our work, not just benefactors. We have clinical experts, administrators, nurses and nurse managers who are comfortable joining us for gift conversations and sharing their stories from the bedside. They knock it out of the park every single time."

Berberovic also guided a $30 million campaign to support construction of a wing to Avera's Behavioral Health Hospital that includes the first behavioral health urgent care in the Sioux Falls area.

"His welcoming personality and collaborative leadership have transformed the Avera Foundation from many separate foundations into a single entity ready to use leading-edge approaches to address real problems for the persons and communities who turn to us for care," says Bob Sutton, president and chief executive of Avera Health.

Jessica Darnell

Jessica Darnell
Vice president and chief nursing officer
Ascension Saint Thomas Midtown, Nashville, Tennessee

Jessica Darnell, 38, has filled several leadership posts at Ascension Saint Thomas Midtown in her 11 years there. Among the most challenging was being director of the intensive care unit during the COVID pandemic.

Jessica Darnell, vice president and chief nursing officer at Ascension Saint Thomas Midtown in Nashville, Tennessee, gets a COVID-19 vaccination from a colleague. Darnell was director of the hospital’s intensive care unit during the pandemic.

"I've seen Jessica navigate the most complex and sensitive matters with thoughtfulness, an analytical approach and grace," says Fahad Tahir, senior vice president, Ascension, and ministry market executive, Ascension Saint Thomas, part of Ascension Tennessee. "Whether it's resource constraints or complex clinical program consolidation, Jessica focuses on front-line caregivers first and leads with an emphasis on trust."

Much of the input she sought out from front-line nurses and doctors was incorporated in the design of the ICU in the new surgery and critical care tower, which opened in October.

"Every choice we made was informed by our associates and physician partners," she says. "Watching the tower come to life exactly as we had planned and seeing the delight of our caregivers was a fantastic feeling."

Promoted to chief nursing officer in 2021, Darnell is intentional about developing nurses along the career continuum from students to nurse leaders. She launched a nurse intern pilot program that brings nursing students into the culture at Ascension Saint Thomas Midtown and prepares them for a smooth transition into a nursing residency program. The program is credited with the campus having retained 86% of its nurse interns as staff nurses in 2022, up from a 69% retention rate for student nurses in 2020. The nurse intern program has expanded to Ascension Saint Thomas West Hospital and is scheduled to begin at Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford in nearby Murfreesboro.

"'Nursing leadership is simply about nursing the nurses, similar to nursing a patient," Darnell says. "It's a wonderful feeling to watch our nursing leaders identify a problem, apply creative solutions and then watch them achieve results that make the work environment better."

Lauren King

Lauren King
Senior director, talent strategy and innovation
Ascension, St. Louis

Since joining Ascension in 2017, Lauren King has sought to increase employee retention by helping employees connect with their health care calling, explore career opportunities and advance in their chosen field.

"Helping people find careers they love is a passion," says King, 40. "When I'm not at work, I'm helping friends, family members or random strangers I meet at my kid's soccer games figure out what they love to do and how to get there."

The pandemic took a heavy toll on the well-being of clinicians, and staff retention has suffered across the health care industry. King leads Ascension's national "internal mobility team," offering clinical associates experiencing burnout support and coaching and help with exploring career opportunities within the health system.

In addition, King revamped a program so career advisers can work more closely with employees whose jobs are ending, assisting them in identifying other opportunities within Ascension.

She helped launch an initiative aimed at increasing staff diversity by introducing high school students in underserved communities to clinical professions requiring degrees and/or certification and entry-level opportunities in health care.

King shaped programs offering personalized career development and support to people beginning their work lives. More than 3,500 associates at various points on the career spectrum from entry-level staff to leadership have connected their health care calling to Ascension's mission and gotten assistance navigating employment benefits through these human resource offerings.

She also helped launch a pilot program called Vocare, from the Latin word meaning "to call." It offers debt-free education assistance for entry-level associates seeking a certificate or degree in health care. Vocare was expected to assist 200 employees in its first year.

King says: "People expect something very different out of employers than they did even five or 10 years ago. Instead of fighting that change, we need to move with it. My leaders are advocates of this mindset, which is a great fit for me."

"Lauren's attention to detail, thoughtful and thorough approach, strong communications skills, dedication and flexibility are exemplary," Jonathan S. Nalli, a former Ascension senior vice president and ministry market executive for Ascension Indiana, says. "Lauren is a joy to work with."

Dr. John Kohler Sr.

Dr. John Kohler Sr.
Southern Illinois regional chief medical officer and president of SSM Health's regional
medical group
SSM Health, St. Louis

A father to four boys, ages 7-12, Dr. John Kohler Sr. approaches his dual role for SSM Health in Southern Illinois much like family dynamics, instilling respect among colleagues for each other's gifts and contributions for the better of the whole.

"What I'm most proud of is the relationships I've built, because that underlies everything else. People want to feel heard and be part of something bigger," says Kohler, 38. "We've worked on improving communicating and listening. All the clinical improvements are a result of the teams doing that work. And our teams do awesome stuff."

Kohler is board certified in pediatrics and neonatal-perinatal medicine. Since joining SSM Health in January 2022 as chief medical officer for Southern Illinois, he has added the role of president of the regional medical group. Under his leadership, SSM Health's regional medical group has increased the rate of annual wellness visits among its Medicare patients aged 65 or older to 67% from 51% and the rate of colorectal screening for uninsured and underinsured patients to 62% from 57%. Its 30-day rate of hospital readmissions for all patients older than 18 has dropped to 9.82% from 15%

Kohler is a consensus builder. His colleagues say he is transparent and authentic, delivering clear feedback with empathy.

"He can quickly build trust and respect with his peers, explain the why and encourage change for the greater good," says Damon R. Harbison, president of SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital in Centralia, Illinois.

It's hard to recruit clinicians to practice in rural areas, so Kohler puts a high priority on retaining SSM Health clinical staff in Southern Illinois.

"Being in a rural market adds a layer of complexity," he says. "We've been fairly successful, and that goes back to the relationship building and adding high-caliber recruits. But it's also about making sure our current employees feel valued and appreciated, so we ensure these folks don't want to look anywhere else. It's not just important for me as a leader but for the communities we serve to keep programs close to their homes."

Tyler Limbaugh

Tyler Limbaugh
Regional integration officer
Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Florida

A civil engineer by training, Tyler Limbaugh experienced a pair of aha moments nearly simultaneously in 2012. He took a Lean Six Sigma course to learn a team-based approach to removing operational waste and reducing variations in process. At the same time, he was converting to Catholicism and attended a career fair where Ascension and The Resource Group were represented.

When he met with The Resource Group representative, "I knew the opportunity was aligned with the mission I wanted to serve," says Limbaugh, 40.

Tyler Limbaugh, regional integration officer for Ascension Florida and Gulf Coast, in Jacksonville, Florida, with his wife and children. An Ascension vice president says: 'One would recruit an entire workforce of Tyler Limbaughs if one could.'

After almost 10 years of racking up success at The Resource Group, Ascension's resource and supply chain management organization, Limbaugh has been promoted to the position of regional integration officer, leading supply and resource management within Ascension's Florida and Gulf Coast markets.

Limbaugh began his career at The Resource Group as part of a team responsible for guiding the integration of health care facilities new to Ascension and The Resource Group. He supported the integration of seven hospital systems comprising 30 acute care facilities, more than 250 clinics and six senior care facilities located across the United States. His efforts produced supply cost savings of 8% to 18% at each facility. He was promoted to lead all supply chain operations across Ascension St. Vincent's in Jacksonville. By concentrating on value, he netted $9.5 million in savings, four times the group's annual goal.

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, supplies of personal protective equipment were scarce. His team fully met caregiver needs in Ascension's Florida and Gulf Coast ministries, according to David Edwards, The Resource Group's southeast regional operating officer.

As a member of the board of directors for Catholic Charlies of the Archdiocese of St. Augustine, Florida, Limbaugh served as a liaison for Ascension's efforts to assist Catholic Charities in redeveloping a shuttered Catholic school in a historic Black neighborhood in North Jacksonville. The refurbished building houses a food pantry and a clinic operated by Ascension.

"One would recruit an entire workforce of Tyler Limbaughs if one could," says Thomas J. Van Osdol, executive vice president and chief mission integration officer for Ascension. "He is a virtuous servant leader, a highly competent and effective executive, and a joy with whom to serve."

Brian Li

Brian Li
System director of community health strategic initiatives
CommonSpirit Health, San Francisco

Brian Li believes that healthy communities are built as much by tending to unmet social needs as medical needs. Li guides CommonSpirit Health's community health projects to bring together clinical and community partners and provide them with granular data that pinpoints unmet needs and tracks the success of customized interventions.

Li used his technical skills to build financial models, execute partnership contracts, and structure data tools, dashboards and collaborations that are essential to the success of CommonSpirit's partnership with Pathways Community HUB Institute. The young partnership currently unites community-based service providers in addressing the social and medical needs of people in four western states.

He also leads development of CommonSpirit's Social Needs Analytics Platform. The platform merges nonclinical data, such as health-related social needs and demographic data, with clinical data harvested from electronic health systems to pinpoint unmet social and medical needs warranting investment and intervention.

Li maintains that a window into unmet social needs is a core piece of what has been missing in understanding a patient's frame of reference and ability to follow medical advice. "Unless our patients meet their basic needs, they probably won't focus on health," says Li, 34. "That's one of the big goals: using more social needs data to better address our patients' health as well as the needs of the community."

Li leads the systemwide work to capture health equity information as a quality measure in compliance with new and revised requirements from The Joint Commission.

"He has been a force of nature to drive strategic and innovative collaborations with colleagues within CommonSpirit and community partners at the local, state, regional and national levels," says Tom Kopfensteiner, senior executive vice president and chief mission officer at CommonSpirit. "Through compassion, humility and inclusion, Brian has garnered trust and authentic relationships with diverse stakeholders."

Zachary Melick

Zachary Melick
Director of business transformation
PeaceHealth, Vancouver, Washington

Zachary Melick's career started in hospitality, where he acquired project management skills; veered through clinical startups, where he honed agile thinking; and brought him to PeaceHealth, where he found purpose.

Until joining PeaceHealth in 2018, "I never found the work fulfilling because it didn't align with my core values," says Melick, 38. "A purpose-driven setting may be as healing for me as it is for those we serve."

His first task was to improve operational resilience. Following a model he structured, cost of care was reduced by 1.5% in the first year. In 2020, the business transformation office was redeployed to manage the COVID-19 response. He and his team developed a data- and process-driven model that used continuous improvements to manage policy, staffing and vaccine rollout.

When pandemic-related staffing shortages resulted in an industrywide reliance on expensive temporary contract labor to meet the needs of its communities, PeaceHealth had to increase its temporary workforce from 300 to over 1,000, resulting in a substantial negative impact on net earnings. Melick worked with PeaceHealth's talent acquisition team to develop protocols that reduced monthly expenditures for temporary labor to $8.5 million in 2022 from $35 million in 2021.

The enterprise intelligence dashboards and management tools he and his team created continue to evolve, now supporting endemic-era operational improvements.

"Zach has a rare combination of emotional and logical-mathematical intelligence," says Liz Dunne, PeaceHealth president and chief executive. "He has an amazing ability to bring humanity to data that reminds us of our shared calling to serve the common good."

Among his ongoing projects is driving PeaceHealth's operational excellence plan around workforce management, capacity and care management, caregiver engagement and patient experience.

"The old military acronym VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) really resonates with me," Melick says. "It's become a running joke that these are the requirements for my team to take on work, and it's my favorite part of the job. I love to bring teams, processes and data together to sort and solve complex problems, revealing new ways of working that ultimately become the standard."

Ratish Kumar Mohan

Ratish Kumar Mohan
Biomedical engineer
Hospital Sisters Health System, Springfield, Illinois

After completing a master's degree from the University of Texas at Dallas, Ratish Kumar Mohan spotted a job listing for a biomedical engineer in the Hospital Sisters Health System.

Ratish Kumar Mohan, a biomedical engineer with Hospital Sisters Health System in Springfield, Illinois, coordinates donations from HSHS hospitals and other Midwestern facilities for shipment to clinics and hospitals in low resource communities worldwide.

A native of India, Mohan knew nothing about the Midwest, but the listing intrigued his mother, a devotee of pranic healing. The movement's spiritual leader, Choa Kok Sui, took his inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis is the patron of the Hospital Sisters of Saint Francis, the founding sponsors of the Hospital Sisters Health System and Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach.

"I felt the connection and the calling" to the global health ministry, says Mohan, 34, who joined Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach in 2016.

Mohan coordinates equipment and medical supply donations from HSHS hospitals and other Midwestern facilities for shipment to clinics and hospitals in low resource communities across the globe.

He matches donors with recipients to prevent the waste and hardship that occurs when unwanted and unusable medical equipment is sent to facilities in developing nations that may not have the resources to use it or repair it. He personally ensures every item is wanted and in perfect working order with no missing parts and all operating manuals when it goes into an overseas shipping container.

He collaborates with technicians and engineers at the receiving facilities to familiarize them with operation and upkeep of complex medical equipment. His job has taken him to Togo and the Solomon Islands, where he helped onboard equipment at a hospital, and to Tanzania, where he participated in a comprehensive needs assessment to help update hospital technology.

"Ratish treasures all people, especially the poor and vulnerable. He cultivates compassion. He excels at bringing people together," says Steve James, founder and chief executive of "The last time I spoke with him, he told me, 'My work gives me great joy.' His qualities are infectious. He treats everyone with dignity and respect."

"What keeps me with Mission Outreach is the scope of the opportunity we have to increase access to health care around the world," Mohan says. "By doing so, we're a small piece in a big spectrum of global health equity."


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