Catholic health care leaders called to meet changing, challenging reality

July 1, 2022

Dr. Rhonda Medows speaks at the opening session of the 2022 Catholic Health Assembly in Indianapolis, IN.

Dr. Rhonda M. Medows
2021-2022 Chairperson
CHA Board of Trustees
President of population health management
Providence St. Joseph Health, Renton, Washington

When I was given the honor to serve as your chair of the CHA Board of Trustees over a year ago, I knew it was a gift and I was ready for both the adventure and the challenges we'd face together. What I was not aware of was the tremendous courage required of — and fulfilled by you, my colleagues in Catholic health care.

I witnessed your willingness to embrace the hard issues before us — on behalf of our Catholic identity. I knew we would learn together, but I could not have anticipated the magnitude of the challenges before us. We will need to be open to new thinking and shifting of our mindsets to benefit the people we care for and to ensure the financial sustainability of our health ministry.

One of those shifts in mindset is the awakening to health care as social justice work. As Dr. Paul Farmer said, "The only way to do the human rights thing is to do the right thing medically." And that is our responsibility.

Here are other examples of what we have learned together:

  • We have learned to do better for our patients by embracing technology for efficiency and flexibility. We've learned to balance new virtual worlds with our compassionate healing touch.
  • We've discovered new ways of serving our communities and, just as the congregations of sisters who founded Catholic health care did, we are responding to the needs of our times by standing beside those who are most vulnerable, listening and opening our eyes to their voices and stories.
  • We launched "We Are Called," a journey of action together for health equity, so that the health disparities of our sisters and brothers in Christ can be eliminated one day. We know that racism is an affront to our Catholic social teachings and therefore we must be brave enough to identify and dismantle it.

And as the work persists, we are required to look forward with agility, brave hearts and enduring courage. The COVID-19 pandemic along with economic uncertainty and social unrest was a catalyst for our growth as leaders. Now we're seizing the opportunity to be a force for positive change and we are persevering.

We will collectively and as individual health systems find our way onto new paths to ensure our financial sustainability that includes addressing unprecedented labor, workforce and supply chain costs.

We know well and honor our responsibility to serve all and especially the poor and vulnerable and understand our service models and care settings will need to change to meet the evolving needs of our communities.

We understand the role and the time required to improve operational efficiencies and pivot to more value-based care, advanced care and payment models.

We understand and embrace our charge for advocacy on behalf of the needs of the people we serve, the people we employ and for the future generations we will protect and nurture. These are troubling times when hate crimes, gun violence, human rights and religious freedoms are all at the forefront in our lives daily. These are issues we must resolve.

We will continue to embrace modern technologies. Telehealth will endure far past the pandemic and there is a responsive market for increased flexibility and simplification in all health care systems.

We will forge our way to a health system centered around value. This is the way we will sustain and remain relevant to those we serve. We are called to redesign our health care system and build one that is centered around the needs of our patients, especially those who are vulnerable, and to hold ourselves accountable to making health care more affordable while continuing to improve outcomes.

We will ensure that equity is the foundation of all that we do. Using data to understand where disparities exist, we must actively work with our communities to address structural racism, historical disenfranchisement, and/or discrimination of marginalized groups including racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA+, and low-income populations. Ensuring that all member of our communities have access to high quality care tailored to their unique needs is the call of our mission.

We will strengthen our resolve to care for the physical, emotional and spiritual health of our caregivers and the communities we serve. The need has never been greater and the level of distress never higher, particularly among our youth. We will continue to strive for a world where access to behavioral health care is on par with physical health care — a world where no one need die in despair.

We are called, and so required, to be leaders of this movement, to hear the pain of our communities. To listen. Some voices whisper, some cry out, others ring in our ears with both cold and hot anger. We remember that anger is the emotion that moves us to act in the face of injustice.

The healing ministry of Jesus and our Catholic teachings are blueprints for our path forward. We'll remain on this path together, in solidarity, listening for how God is calling us to bring about his beloved kingdom.

I am eternally grateful for the comradery, engagement and support of Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, CHA's president and chief executive officer, the CHA staff and my fellow board members

I look forward to continuing along in this journey with all of you, just in a different capacity. And as I pass the torch of leadership on to the incoming chairperson, Laura Kaiser, I leave you with two quotes that provide me with inspiration:

"A population that does not take care of the elderly and of children has no future because it abuses both its memory and its promise." — Pope Francis:

"As the body is dead without spirit, so faith without deed is dead."— James 2:26

Actions must follow promising words!

Blessings to you and your families.

Copyright © 2022 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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