By JULIE MINDA
Ascension is strengthening its commitment to address the structural causes of poverty, a significant factor in an individual's health span and life span. This system-wide effort involves working to understand the needs of the poor, responding to those needs appropriately and ensuring a culture that promotes "communion and relationship with persons who are poor and vulnerable."
Mary Paul, Ascension vice president of mission integration, leads a practice area with efforts to build solidarity with the poor throughout Ascension, a St. Louis-based system of more than 2,600 care sites, including its 150 hospitals.
She spoke to Catholic Health World about that work.
Why is this work around solidarity with the poor important for Ascension at this time?
We are in an era of transformation of health care and transformation of our organization. As we engage these efforts, it is essential to connect this call to action with our mission to be in communion with the poor and vulnerable. When you practice something, it becomes part of who you are.
During times of great change, remembering who we are is critical, and in the midst of challenge it offers the energy and inspiration for the work at hand.
How does a health system truly connect with the poor?
We are seeking to bring ourselves to the table — to the community — to slow down, listen, and respond to the needs in partnership with others. The challenge then is to step back and to assure we're all oriented in the right way — so that while we're doing our work, we're making connections.
Volunteers from the Ascension Seton ministry administer a vision exam at a Medical Mission at Home event in Hutto, Texas.
The body of work of mission integration supports our identity as a ministry of the church expressed in our mission. In this way, we advance throughout Ascension a common vision and commitment to solidarity. Ascension's new president and chief executive, Joe Impicciche, is very dedicated to advancing this core commitment in all facets of Ascension's transformational journey.
How do you keep things moving forward?
We want our efforts around solidarity with the poor to be operationally aligned, intentional and relevant in all our communities so we can make the appropriate impact in partnership with our communities.
Can you provide an example of how this approach benefits the poor or improves access to health care?
One example is our Medical Mission at Home initiative, which involves our ministries partnering with their communities to broaden relationships as we provide community members with a variety of medical and social services. Ministries respond to identified community needs by hosting events where clinicians and other associates partner with community agencies to provide access to clinical and social services including basic necessities like food.
What impact is this work having on Ascension's culture?
These medical missions and the like help us remember who we are as an organization as they also energize our individual vocations as healers, reconnecting us to our passion for service.
Solidarity with the poor is important to Ascension because it's central to who we are. Being focused on our commitment to solidarity urges us to expand our thinking and also to recognize and reflect on our own poverty.
What assistance did Ascension offer in markets that were new to Medical Mission at Home?
Each ministry identified operational executives to lead or sponsor the medical mission events. We had collaborative sessions with the ministry leaders and associates to share ideas and opportunities and bring different disciplines together to address questions around the impact we wanted to have.
We provided planning materials and utilized the community health needs assessment to identify and focus on specific needs, in collaboration with various clinical providers, social service agencies and others. After the medical missions, our participants reflected on the experience and implemented at least one learning into routine operations.
Why the focus on the practice of reflection?
Guided reflection provides the opportunity to see the meaning for those we serve and for ourselves in serving, and also to consider ways to improve our connection with community. It is a way to listen, learn and respond. This offers learning from the populations that are most vulnerable. There is great potential for a team that connects with, listens to and learns from persons we serve.
Are all Ascension markets hosting medical missions?
Every Ascension ministry market has had a medical mission, and some markets have had more than one. Ascension has committed to continuing the medical missions in all of its markets.
What other efforts are a ready fit for increasing solidarity with the poor?
We're looking at community benefit, the community health needs assessment, the continuing spread of work related to human trafficking and the Dispensary of Hope. (The dispensary distributes medication to uninsured people through 48 outposts in Ascension facilities.) Further, we are engaged in major efforts to design new models of care for the future.
How does solidarity with the poor sharpen community benefit work?
We're asking: "What is the impact we're having in our communities and how can we increase that impact?" The goal isn't just to account for community benefit work, but more importantly to ask what changes we are trying to effect and how to measure our impact. We want to strengthen our connections in service to community.
In all of this work we are growing the ways in which we serve, and deepening the culture of encounter, the way to be with persons in need as we respond to their needs.
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