CHA lauds front-line workers at assembly pushed to the virtual realm by pandemic

June 2020

June 9, 2020

Although the pandemic kept health ministry leaders from gathering in person at CHA's annual Catholic Health Assembly for the first time in 105 years, hundreds convened online Monday for an inspiring and forward-looking virtual version of the event.

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Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, CHA's president and chief executive officer, opens the organization's Catholic Health Assembly on Monday. The event was held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At 90 minutes, the online gathering was a much-shortened stand-in for the planned 2½-day event in Atlanta. Nevertheless, it served to rally senior leaders of Catholic health systems and hospitals across the U.S. who along with health care workers everywhere have spent most of the year fighting the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus and grappling with the pandemic's toll on lives, communities and economies.

"The founders of our health ministries had the courage to move beyond their known reality. They responded to God's call and trusted in God's abiding presence," Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, CHA's president and chief executive officer, said in her opening remarks. "Today, we, too, are called to trust God; to embrace what is emerging in Catholic health care; and to have the courage to step through the threshold into a new reality."

Workers at risk
"I'd like to begin by recognizing all the heath care workers who have given so much in service to those impacted by COVID-19," Sr. Mary said in her comments, which followed a video homage to the staff of Catholic hospitals and nursing homes caring for patients with COVID-19. "On behalf of the entire ministry, I offer our heartfelt appreciation and gratitude."

She compared their selfless service to that of the religious women who founded and sustained Catholic health care during times of national crisis, including the Civil War and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

"Our response to this pandemic demonstrates that the mission of Catholic health care has never been stronger," Sr. Mary said.

The Most Rev. José H. Gomez, the archbishop of Los Angeles and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, gave the opening reflection at CHA's virtual assembly. He addressed those on the front lines of the pandemic saying, "I hope you know how grateful we are and how much we are indebted to you."

She added that the healing ministry of Jesus continues through the Catholic ministry's compassionate care for patients and families, including end of life care; its demand for an ethical allocation of resources including coronavirus testing, medical supplies and a "soon-to-be vaccine;" and its advocacy for funding in support of Medicaid, affordable health coverage and residential care and hospitals, especially safety net hospitals.

The assembly's opening reflection was given by the Most Rev. José H. Gomez, the archbishop of Los Angeles and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Before offering a prayer for all those suffering from the pandemic, he addressed those on the front lines saying, "I hope you know how grateful we are and how much we are indebted to you."

Disparities and protests
Sr. Mary pointed out that COVID-19 has shined a bright light on the disparities in health outcomes based on race and economic status. She noted that black Americans account for 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet represent 25 percent of all coronavirus deaths and that their mortality rate during this pandemic has been 2.4 times higher than that of white Americans. She also noted that nursing home patients have died at a disproportionately high rate from the virus.

"COVID didn't teach us anything we didn't already know, but it has fueled our will to act," Sr. Mary said. "And as an essential ministry of the church, we are impelled to act and bring our communities to wholeness."

Sr. Mary also referenced the courage of peaceful protesters who have taken to the streets across the nation for the past two weeks demanding an end to police brutality against blacks and changes in policing practices and budgets. "It takes courage to change our perceptions and to walk in solidarity with those crying out for change," she said.

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Kevin Sexton, outgoing CHA board chair, listed some of the highlights of 2019 for the organization, including updating its strategic plan.

Strategic plan revised
Kevin Sexton, outgoing board chair, listed some of the highlights of the last year for CHA. One was the work under way to draft the next strategic plan for the association. Sexton, the retired president and chief executive officer of Holy Cross Health, said the "four overriding strategic directions" of the plan are:

  • Increase access to health care, especially for the poor.
  • Enhance the health of the communities served by Catholic health care.
  • Help CHA member institutions and systems to thrive.
  • Speak to and strengthen the Catholic identity of health ministries.

"Our original goal was to provide you with a completed plan at this meeting, but the board has wisely determined that the tactics behind these strategic directions should be finalized after taking stock of the post-COVID world," Sexton told the audience. He added that the crisis has revealed not only the disparities for the poor and for people of color in the nation's health care system but shortcomings in how the system is financed that shift costs and prioritize market strength over improved health. He said flawed financing policies have led to skyrocketing Medicare and Medicaid spending that dwarfs spending in areas that also are critically important to health, including education and housing.

"We must confront this challenge of matching resources to our most important mission aims, but we do so at a time of great risk to the institutions we love," Sexton said. "As a result of COVID, many need immediate help and CHA will advocate for that help.

"At the same time, we need courage to push for broader long-term change as a society, a government, and an industry or we will not, with the best of intentions or individual actions, make our society sufficiently healthy or fair."

New board chair installed
Julie S. Manas, president of Ascension St. Vincent North Region, was commissioned for a one-year term as CHA's board chair.

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Julie S. Manas, president of Ascension St. Vincent North Region, was commissioned for a one-year term as CHA's board chair during the virtual assembly. Her term begins July 1.

Manas expressed confidence that Catholic health ministries will withstand the current challenges. For inspiration, she cited what she said was one of her favorite Bible passages, Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Manas said the pandemic has cost lives, including that of her brother-in-law, shuttered businesses, put people out of work and taken away the health insurance of many. But she noted that it has prompted remarkable displays of heroism and compassion, such as the touching stories of nurses in Catholic hospitals gently holding the hands of their patients weakened by COVID-19 so they can see and hear family members via FaceTime. Manas said that COVID-19 spurred rapid changes in health care delivery infrastructure that enabled physicians to shift patients to virtual office visits, a shift that was implemented with remarkable speed.

"I have never been more proud to be a part of our Catholic health system, for all of those heartwarming, and heartbreaking experiences," she said.

Many hospitals are operating under financial duress related to the pandemic. Manas said it is important that Catholic hospitals survive. She noted that one in seven hospital patients, many of them "poor, vulnerable, marginalized and voiceless," receive care in a Catholic facility.

"Yes, it will be difficult. Yes, we are up for the challenge," she said. "And yes, here we are, taking one day at a time."

Next steps
Other highlights of the assembly included videotaped messages from three CHA board members.

Karen G. Reich, chief executive officer/system senior services for Bon Secours St. Petersburg Health System and an outgoing CHA board member, discussed the especially harsh toll that the pandemic has on long-term-care facilities and what it will take to keep those facilities thriving. Among her recommendations were to prioritize the availability and distribution of personal protective equipment to long-term care providers and widespread and frequent testing of all residents and staff.

Darryl Robinson, senior executive vice president and chief human resources officer for CommonSpirit Health, offered suggestions on how best to make use of technology in health care without losing the personal touch that sets Catholic care apart. His ideas included assessing what went well and what could have been improved in the responses to the pandemic and not letting technology "dominate the health care arena." He added: "Technology should be a complement to providing great hands-on care, and frankly I think that's what makes Catholic health care unique."

Dr. Rhonda M. Medows, president of population health management at Providence St. Joseph Health and CHA chair-elect, talked about the role of population health in linking public health and preventive measures with health care and health resources.

Futurist Jamie Metzl said in his keynote presentation that U.S. health care could be on the verge of transformative change and that Catholic providers should play an active role in making sure that change advances the common good and benefits the poor and vulnerable.

CHA applauds its 2020 award winners

The winners of the 2020 CHA awards were acknowledged during the virtual assembly on Monday. The honorees will receive their awards in person during next year's Catholic Health Assembly in Indianapolis. Beginning today and over the next week, Catholic Health World is publishing profiles of winners.

Achievement Citation
Alaska CARES, a program in Anchorage for abused children and their families. Sponsored by Providence Health & Services Alaska, Alaska CARES has a special focus on native populations.

Sister Concilia Moran Award
Patricia Casey, founder and coordinator of a program based at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis that creates personal care plans for medically fragile children so EMS personnel responding to emergencies arrive on the scene prepared to care for a child with a tracheostomy or other complex medical needs.

Sister Carol Keehan Award
Jane Graf, president and chief executive officer at Mercy Housing in Denver, is the inaugural winner of this social justice award.

Lifetime Achievement Award
The winner of this award, Johnny Cox, is a nurse, ethicist, professor and a member of the original sponsor board of Providence Ministries, one of the two public juridic persons of Providence St. Joseph Health in Renton, Washington. Cox is chief ethics adviser for the Alliance of Catholic Health Care in Sacramento, California.

Tomorrow's Leaders

Natalie Blum
System director, quality and infection prevention at PeaceHealth in Vancouver, Washington.

Lindsay Flannery
Vice president, patient care services at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital, in Yankton, South Dakota.

Wendy Gaudet
Director of pharmacy at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Morgan Griffith
Vice president, digital strategy and transformation at Bon Secours Mercy Health, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Dr. Karthik Iyer
Chief medical officer and medical director of critical care at Mercy Hospital Jefferson, in Festus, Missouri.

Prub Khurana
Chief strategy officer at Providence St. Joseph Health, in Irvine, California.

Tiffany Parker
Director of inpatient behavioral health, addiction services and domestic violence services at St. Agnes Hospital, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

Aaron Puchbauer
President and chief executive at HSHS Good Shepherd Hospital, in Shelbyville, Illinois.

Nathaniel Schlicher
Regional medical director of quality assurance for emergency medicine at CHI Franciscan Health, Tacoma, Washington.

Bernardita Ureta
Vice president of mission at Red de Salud UC CHRISTUS, in Santiago, Chile.


Copyright © 2020 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

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