Hochman guides Providence in bold health equity work

July 2023



On any given morning, Dr. Rod Hochman tries to spend a few minutes connecting in spirit with the 117,000 caregivers employed by Providence St. Joseph Health across seven Western states.

Dr. Rod Hochman, president and chief executive of Providence, has helped elevate efforts to foster a culture of respect where sacred encounters and other moments of meaningful human connection are valued. Once Films

"What I like to think about early in the morning in my office is what's happening right at that moment," said Hochman. "At that moment, there are about 1,000 patients getting prepped for surgery. ORs are getting cranked up. The first home health visits are happening; staff are in the ICU; they're making rounds. And I think about all the interactions between our caregivers and the people we serve."

Hochman considers every one of those contacts as a potential sacred encounter. As president and chief executive of Providence, he has helped elevate efforts to foster a culture of respect where sacred encounters and other moments of meaningful human connection are valued. His belief in the inherent worth of every individual drives his work to advance social justice and health equity at Providence and in the U.S. For that leadership, he is the 2023 recipient of CHA's Sister Carol Keehan Award.

Sr. Carol, in whose honor the award is given, is a past president and chief executive of CHA. She is one of the nation's most effective advocates for expanding health care access by growing and sustaining Medicaid.

Under Hochman's leadership, Providence fights to sustain Medicaid and Medicare programs and supports environmental and social initiatives to prevent chronic diseases and improve population health in vulnerable communities.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Providence found itself in the center of the chaos the virus wrought in the United States. The first COVID-19 patient to be hospitalized in the U.S. was treated in a Providence facility in the Seattle metropolitan area. Western Washington, which is home to several Providence ministries and its system office, was the country's first epicenter of the pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, public health officials began to observe that communities of color and the medically marginalized were at a significantly higher risk of contracting COVID and having worse outcomes than whites. Less than six months into the pandemic in the U.S., Providence committed $50 million over five years to address the underlying racial disparities in health care that were amplified by the pandemic.

Gabriela Robles, chief executive of the St. Joseph Community Partnership Fund in Los Angeles, says Hochman is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of communities, particularly those facing economic hardship and generational poverty.

"He's always asking, 'How is the community doing? How do we (at Providence) break through these structures of oppression so people can flourish? How can we do better?'"

Child of immigrants
Robles isn't surprised by this sort of interest from Hochman. Hochman is the child of two immigrants who came to the United States from Europe during World War II. He states that they "had to fight through everything they did" and instilled a sense of comradery in him from an early age.

"The immigrant experience is something that I think is really formative for me," said Hochman. "The question that my parents always had for me is, 'What are you going to give back?' That was not elective."

Robles attributes Hochman's connection with vulnerable people to his own story and the empathy it fostered.

"I just think it's how he's hard-wired," Robles said. "Everything is rooted in love."

Knowing when to step up or step back
Given the heightened political nature of many issues facing Catholic health care, Hochman understands he has to balance boldness with diplomacy. He says there comes a point, however, when a leader must step up for what is right and let the chips fall where they may.

In moments like that, Hochman says he draws his inspiration from the courage Sr. Carol demonstrated in driving support for the Affordable Care Act when there were deep divisions within the Catholic Church and the country over the bill which gave millions access to affordable insurance. "When do these issues become so pivotal that you can't back away?" Hochman asks.

Hochman has put stakes in the ground for expanded health care access — the system is among the nation's most vocal in its support of Medicaid and Medicare. Environmental justice is another area where Providence is out front. The system has committed to becoming carbon negative by the year 2030.

"It's an audacious goal," says Hochman. Climate change threatens the health of everyone, but the economically disadvantaged will pay the heaviest price. Given the stakes, "You've got to take that kind of a stance," Hochman says.

Investment in mental health and well-being is another area where Hochman is showing national leadership.

Mary Lyons, a past chair and current member of the Providence Board of Directors, said when St. Joseph Health and Providence Health and Services merged in 2016, Hochman was determined that the system quickly make its impact felt.

"One of the first things we did as a new system is that we agreed to invest a lot of money to create a nonprofit called the Well-Being Trust," Lyons said.

Providence committed $100 million to the nonprofit, first known as the Institute for Mental Health and Wellness. The trust's vision, according to its website, is: "Everyone realizes their fullest potential for well-being." It's a vision that Lyons sees in the community-level outreach work Hochman champions at Providence and in the brain trust he's built to achieve the system's mission of nurturing the spiritual, emotional and physical well-being of Providence staff and the people the system serves.

"He finds these really talented people from all over, convinces them to come work for us and then lets them do their jobs," Lyons says. Executives recruited by Hochman have been key players in advancing Providence's bold approach toward advancing social justice and health equity, she adds.

"I think the founders — the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange and the Sisters of Providence — can see in Rod and his team that their own work continues to be vital," said Lyons. "It lives on in the work that Rod inspires others to do and that he does himself."

Social justice champion
Hochman has "been an advocate for issues of social justice as long as I've known him," says Isiaah Crawford, president of University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. "It's part of his personal set of values and his personal, professional commitment."

Crawford met Hochman more than a decade ago, when Crawford was provost at Seattle University and Hochman was the chief executive at Swedish Health Services. Hochman invited Crawford to serve on the Swedish board. It was there that he noticed Hochman's commitment to social justice work. Crawford calls Hochman a champion of all things diversity, equity and inclusion and of expanded health care access.

"He gets a sense of personal value when he answers the question, 'How have I been helpful today? How was I able to help someone have a sense of belief in themselves that they didn't have yesterday?'" Crawford says.

Crawford calls Hochman a service-oriented leader; someone who always treats people with respect, is responsive and adaptable, and facilitates people to bring new ideas and concepts forward. "He does not have to be the star," Crawford said. "He's open to making sure the sun shines where it needs to shine."


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