Catholic care providers intensify efforts to elevate inclusion and racial justice in their communities

November 15, 2020


As part of CHRISTUS Health's racial justice education campaign for employees, the system built a web portal populated with information about health equity, diversity and inclusion.

This spring, when a video of the homicide of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer went viral, employees of CHRISTUS Health were among the countless people who were stunned and heartbroken by what they saw.

To acknowledge the horror of that death along with the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many others, and to help employees begin to process their emotions, CHRISTUS held a virtual memorial service. CHRISTUS has since been encouraging conversation about racial inequity among employees and building awareness of employee assistance programs for mental health for those distressed — all to help associates to work through the trauma of racism. Efforts include outreach to Hispanic employees, who may experience a different brand of toxic racism than Black employees.


Angela M. MacDonald, system director of mission integration for CHRISTUS, says of the emotional weight of processing toxic racism, "these are painfully traumatic experiences and when you think of the sum total of those experiences … you understand the need for self-care for associates."

Like CHRISTUS, most Catholic health systems and facilities have found a fresh impetus in 2020's civil unrest to take on inequity anew. These systems are redoubling their efforts to help employees harmed by inequity and racism, and bolstering cultural sensitivity training and education of all associates, providing staff with more resources on diversity, equity and inclusion.


Processing emotions
Like CHRISTUS, CommonSpirit Health has been facilitating formal dialogue among associates to process ideas and emotions around the nationwide clamor for racial justice. Corinne Francis, system vice president of mission integration, said these conversations started organically at a facility in the system's Northern California re–gion and then CommonSpirit hosted "meaningful conversations" across the system. Francis says in small groups employees openly voice their perspectives and are encouraged to learn from others.

Tabiri Chukunta, executive director of community outreach and diversity and inclusion officer for Saint Peter's Healthcare System, says that by late October, that system had held two focus group sessions with Black employees and was preparing to hold sessions with its Hispanic and, separately, its Asian associates.


Chukunta says, "We continue to look at ways to further our culture of diversity and inclusion; as such, Saint Peter's is holding focus groups to gather feedback from our minorities/employees of color. Listening and learning from them is critical."

PeaceHealth has been encouraging such conversations through preexisting affinity groups. PeaceHealth has five such groups and is developing more, to bring together employees across all of its facilities who have common backgrounds and interests. Currently there are groups for Latino employees, Black employees, and people who identify as LGBTQ. The groups have become increasingly active during the pandemic, hosting virtual events that reach caregivers across PeaceHealth's markets. New affinity groups are being formed.

A photo montage of Black people killed by police or as a result of a hate crime on display during a CHRISTUS Health videoconference for employees, one of a series of such sessions on topics having to do with health equity, diversity and inclusion. Presenters Warren Chalklen, CHRISTUS manager of cultural competence, diversity and inclusion programs, and Angela MacDonald, CHRISTUS system director of mission integration, are in the upper righthand corner, along with a participant.

PeaceHealth also has started offering group support sessions for its employees who are people of color. Called "Healing Racial Trauma for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Caregivers," the sessions provide emotional support for people who are struggling with stressors connected with racial identity, racism and discrimination, says Joline Treanor, PeaceHealth executive vice president of people and culture.

PeaceHealth licensed behavioral health therapists provide one-on-one "culturally responsive psychological first aid" to employees who are people of color. Treanor explains that the approach, along with other efforts in this vein, are in line with "a holistic view of our people and culture at PeaceHealth."

Similarly, at CHRISTUS, says MacDonald, leadership is encouraging associates who have been emotionally and spiritually impacted by racial inequity to take advantage of free therapeutic care offered by the system.

Reviewing policies, practices
Some systems have also been scrutinizing their policies to see if they need to be revised to ensure equity in areas including recruitment and promotion.

"We're in the process of actually going through all our policies and looking at them through a different lens," says Hunter Richardson, chief human resources officer for Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System. The goal, he says, is to root out any unintended exclusions or bias.


In addition, Richardson says the system is reviewing its hiring and promotional practices because FMOLHS wants to be certain it is making intentional efforts to ensure those practices are fair and advance diversity. "Whether it's age, race, gender, religious affiliation, regardless, we want to ensure that we have intentional efforts to support hiring within those specific groups," he says.

Hospital Sisters Health System has put in place implicit bias training for all its colleagues in an effort to expose and root out prejudices that affect the work environment. The system is setting up a diversity council to reinforce that training and raise issues related to inclusion and equity, says President and Chief Executive Mary Starmann-Harrison.


HSHS has also crafted a "very well laid out" compensation plan for all employees and leaders, Starmann-Harrison says. "It's about as tight as it can get in not allowing anybody to pay somebody more than anybody else in the same job," she says.

Building knowledge
Odesa Stapleton, chief diversity and inclusion officer of Bon Secours Mercy Health, says that system is providing training for all 60,000 of its associates to fight racism, including through sessions on how to recognize and interrupt one's own discriminatory thinking and actions. The system offers related information and videos on an online learning portal and promotes formal and informal conversations about race among its associates and communities.


MacDonald says CHRISTUS has a web portal with videos and learning modules aimed at combatting discrimination by CHRISTUS associates. The portal connects employees who want to take part in book clubs that explore social justice topics.

Providence St. Joseph Health hosts a webinar series for staff that focuses on efforts both by the health system and by others in the communities it serves to reduce health disparities impacting people of color and people in marginalized communities, including and especially those facing longstanding socioeconomic challenges.

Sometimes the speakers are patients who have gotten care within the system. They discuss their experiences with caregivers and whether they received helpful information and any follow-up care they needed, says Dr. Rhonda Medows, president of population health management at Providence St. Joseph Health. "When we really listen to our patients, caregiver colleagues and people in our communities, we are better able to answer the call of patients as they ask us to 'Know me, care for me, and ease my way,'" Medows says.


At PeaceHealth, Treanor says, the Center for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access leads work to educate employees on unconscious bias and diversity. This center is coaching leaders on how to hold conversations on race. And it is developing programming to increase employees' understanding of the interplay and influences that contribute to racial injustice. Treanor says the work ahead will not be "easy, or comfortable. We anticipate a degree of discomfort and confusion. Despite this, we know we must stay the course towards respect and social justice."

Treanor says of the work to promote an inclusive culture, "this pursuit is a journey and not a destination. For change to be truly lasting, we know that we will need to sustain these efforts on all levels, from leadership to our caregivers and treatment of our patients."


CHA is working with its members on an initiative to address racism and health equity. As Catholic health care, we are committed to achieving equity in the health care we provide, in the communities we serve, and in the nation as a whole. Our ministry is uniquely positioned to be a leader in this effort based on our long history of caring for everyone regardless of race or socioeconomic status and our deep commitment to the social teachings and moral principles of the Catholic faith. Stay tuned over the coming months to learn more about the initiative.

Visit to learn more (member login required).

Copyright © 2020 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

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

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.