By KATHLEEN NELSON
Grounded in tradition and faith, each member of the CHA 2020 class of Tomorrow's Leaders is advancing the work of the founders of the Catholic health ministry. Their intelligence, resourcefulness and enthusiasm will help Catholic health care navigate through the challenges that lie ahead, and do so with an unblinkered commitment to care for the poor and vulnerable. Here is a look at the contributions of this year's honorees.
System director, quality and infection prevention, PeaceHealth, Vancouver, Washington
Natalie Blum arrived at PeaceHealth with a blueprint to develop systemwide standards for quality and patient safety. She says she stayed because of the mission.
"I don't know if I knew what the mission was where I worked before," says Blum, 35. At PeaceHealth, "the mission is in everything we do. It's in my quality plan; it's in every tool kit for best practices. With my public health background, the focus we have on the health of the communities and the compassion we have for community members seems like a natural fit. I could never go back."
To put her blueprint in action, Blum assembled teams of leaders and caregivers, each focused on a specific quality or safety metric. Each team collected best practices within the system, researched and compared them to best practices nationally, then developed a standardized approach to quality improvement that included detailed weekly reporting on each metric. In 18 months, PeaceHealth achieved a 47% reduction in hospital-acquired pressure injuries, a 42% reduction in catheter-associated urinary tract infections and a 33% reduction in central line-associated bloodstream infections.
"It was exciting to see that and to see how engaged the teams were," Blum says. She also assembled a team to develop rapid management Code Sepsis protocols for emergency departments throughout PeaceHealth and has started a pilot program using electronic health records and predictive modeling to identify admitted patients at risk of sepsis. All Code Sepsis patients get antibiotics within 60 minutes of risk identification.
"Natalie has a real knack for getting out in our networks and building relationships," says Dr. Mark Hallett, senior vice president and chief medical officer for PeaceHealth. "She demonstrates compassion and understanding for what it's like to be an operational colleague by knowing not only what we need to accomplish at an organizational level, but also what that will take in terms of support and how challenging it will be for our caregivers."
Vice president, patient care services, Avera Sacred Heart Hospital, Yankton, South Dakota
Initially trained as an intensive care unit nurse, Lindsay Flannery built her health care management skills as administrator of two critical access hospitals in South Dakota, Avera Flandreau Hospital, near the Flandreau Santee Indian Reservation, and Avera Dells Area Hospital in Dell Rapids.
"Critical access administrators wear so many hats," says Flannery, 38. "The variety brought me energy and enthusiasm, as well as much learning."
She helped organize a prayer team at Avera's Dell Rapids hospital. Members visit and pray with patients, and the group also gathers daily to pray for patients, colleagues and community needs.
In Flandreau, Flannery learned to address subtle racism and raise cultural sensitivities with "delicacy and conviction," says Kara L. Payer, vice president of mission at Avera Sacred Heart Hospital. Flannery's personal outreach in a capital campaign that helped fund expansion and renovation of the hospital as well as a new clinic and offices in Flandreau made contributors feel a sense of ownership and pride, no matter the size of their gift.
"Underlying all of her hard work and leadership is her heart to serve those less fortunate. I am a better person, Flandreau is a better place, and people are still impacted because of Lindsay's leadership," says Dr. Scott N. Peterson, who practices family medicine at Avera Medical Group and Avera Flandreau Hospital.
Since moving to her current role overseeing clinical care at Avera Sacred Heart, Flannery has improved efficiency by combining medical and surgical nursing units. She helped launch the Mentoring in Motion program, which pairs experienced nurses and new graduates, and has increased employee retention in all nursing units. Flannery is adept at consensus building, a skill she puts into practice as liaison between Avera and independent providers.
"I have the fortune of working with an incredible team at Avera Sacred Heart and across the Avera Health footprint," she says, "intelligent, genuine, skilled individuals, striving to make a positive impact in the lives of our patients and residents."
Director of pharmacy, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a member of Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System
Shortly after joining Our Lady of the Lake in 2013, Wendy Gaudet was charged with opening three pharmacies as well as overseeing pharmaceutical services to 30 clinics and an outpatient surgery center that were joining the system as LSU Health Baton Rouge. At the same time, though, she could not look away from the daily needs of the region's at-risk populations: mothers who couldn't afford basic antibiotics for their children; diabetic patients who couldn't afford their insulin; cancer patients avoiding their infusions because they already owed too much.
"My eyes were opened to the needs of my own community," says Gaudet, 39. "I knew this was why I was called to work in a faith-based ministry. This is what being the hands and feet of Christ would be about for me."
She's led efforts to expand the system's 340B program and sustain a vital patient assistance program to provide free drugs to patients without the ability to pay, including more than $5 million annually for cancer patients. She's deepened a partnership with the St. Vincent DePaul Community Pharmacy, brokering discussions about repackaging prescription medications for the homeless and the poor. She worked to create the first acute care and infusion suite pharmacy catering to medically underserved patients at the Our Lady of the Lake North clinic and emergency department, a partnership with the state of Louisiana.
Gaudet, who has been instrumental in developing the system's expertise in oncology pharmacy, created a best practice in pharmaceutical sterile and hazardous compounding as well as clean room compliance that has been recognized by The Joint Commission.
"I am a better leader because of Wendy's determination, encouragement and daily example of servant leadership," says Lesley Tilley, vice president of operations for Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady.
Vice president, digital strategy and transformation, Bon Secours Mercy Health, Cincinnati
Morgan Griffith assembled of team of 32 from the ground up that guides the digital and transformation strategies of Bon Secours Mercy Health.
In the past three years, her team has unified digital marketing and media platforms, launched organizational blogs and redesigned websites that reported a 70% increase in organic search traffic. These changes made access to the ministry's providers easier for patients because of new provider directories.
Griffith also guided the system in establishing a partnership with FC Cincinnati, the city's Major League Soccer franchise. She helped establish Mercy Health as a sponsor of the team's community impact projects focused on opioid abuse, youth sports and community gardens that bring fresh foods to underserved communities.
"Morgan is a dynamic leader with a passion and dedication for improving the wellness and connectedness of our communities," says Sandra Mackey, chief marketing officer for Bon Secours Mercy Health. "She continuously focuses on improving engagement with health care consumers in a way that enables us to meet their needs at a time and place they need it with greater ease and predictability."
She also leads the team creating a digital platform that aims to be a one-stop shop for consumers to access health care and well-being information, including the development of a mobile app.
"One of my favorite sayings is ‘The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away,'" says Griffith, 36. "I cannot describe how fortunate I am to have found my gift, and now to work to give it away in support of a ministry that truly prioritizes the complete and whole health of people. It's really not work when you enjoy it though. Right?"
Dr. Karthik Iyer
Chief medical officer and medical director of critical care, Mercy Hospital Jefferson, Festus, Missouri
Dr. Karthik Iyer decided to pursue medicine as a youngster, after his mother revealed that she had lost her first child because of inadequate medical resources. One of the first nocturnists at Mercy Hospital Jefferson, he committed to caring for patients in the hours when resources are limited and fears are at their highest.
"Particularly gratifying has been the COVID-19 ex–perience, where our sickest patients on ventilators were able to make an improbable recovery and reunite with their families," says Iyer, 39.
He didn't imagine himself as a leader, though, until one of his mentors challenged him.
"Taking on these challenges and trying to find a solution, knowing your decisions for the hospital can have a huge impact on the local community gives you a huge sense of responsibility," he says.
Under Iyer's guidance, the intensive care unit has seen a drop in the mortality rate and a reduction in overall length of stay for all patients, including those requiring ventilators. He also helped develop RESCUE, a program aimed at decreasing readmissions for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at Mercy Jefferson. Upon discharge, patients receive an early follow-up with a pulmonologist in a new COPD clinic that also includes COPD education from a respiratory therapist/nurse; consultation with Mercy Virtual providers; and home care equipment, including an iPad and medications.
He is especially proud, though, of helping to launch Code Hour One, which reduces the mortality rate by speeding the response to patients with indicators for severe sepsis. The program assigns a dedicated nurse to the patient, providing a nurse-patient ratio of 1:1 to complete the sepsis bundle within 60 minutes.
"It takes a great clinician to improve a patient's life, but it takes a physician leader to promote a healing culture," says Dr. Raymond Weick, vice president of Mercy Clinic and a member of the Tomorrow's Leaders class of 2015. "Dr. Karthik Iyer is such a leader."
Prub "PK" Khurana
Chief strategy officer, Providence St. Joseph Health — Southern California; chief executive, Providence St. Joseph Health Network, Irvine, California
Prub Khurana has an instinct for finding synergy and partnerships. Raised in the Sikh religion, he has found a perfect fit in Catholic health care because both religions share a belief that learning and formation are constants and that special considerations should be made to care for the vulnerable.
"In the Sikh faith tradition … we are staunch defenders of those who cannot defend themselves and are a voice for the voiceless," Khurana says. "When I came to realize that keeping our ministry's identity and heritage alive and thriving was as simple as being myself, I was liberated."
His ability to find common ground has led to a series of business partnerships for Providence. Chief among them is a relationship he helped forge with the insurance provider Oscar Health that aligned incentives between them and expanded Providence's "high-performing network" throughout Southern California. "It is one of the opportunities that really leverages the scale of Providence in the market and demonstrates our leadership role as a health provider," he says.
Khurana, 38, also helped form a partnership with Collective Health, a Silicon Valley-based self-funded employer benefits platform for insurance plan administration, patient navigation and engagement and analytics. In addition, he represented Providence in its partnership with Exer Urgent Care. Together, they operate 16 high-acuity urgent care centers across Southern California and plan to add 25 locations throughout the region.
"He does this work so well because he is trusted," says Mike Butler, president of strategy and operations for Providence St. Joseph Health. "No one doubts that PK has our mission and values at heart in everything he does."
Director, inpatient behavioral health, addiction and domestic violence services, St. Agnes Hospital, Agnesian HealthCare, a member of SSM Health, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Starting her career as a domestic violence advocate, Tiffany Parker joined St. Agnes Hospital in 2013. She has grown domestic violence and be–havioral health services at the hospital and created a multifaceted hub for the vulnerable that includes legal advocacy, offender services, counseling and crisis intervention and serves 150 to 200 patients per month.
"Tiffany has changed the landscape of her community," says Katherine Vergos, president of St. Agnes Hospital. "Through her passion to bring awareness and education to a community, she has helped many victims of violence and addiction come forward that otherwise might have stayed silent."
Parker also formed partnerships with law enforcement to screen people at risk of homicide as a result of domestic abuse and with educators to create a school-based violence prevention program. The prevention education program works with an average of 5,000 students, community members and nurses per year.
Since assuming her current role last year, Parker has integrated services for patients and for victims of domestic violence across the care continuum. Her goal is to build a stand-alone mental health facility for adults and adolescents struggling with all types of emotional trauma. Parker, 30, says St. Agnes Hospital was well-positioned to bring these behavioral health services to Fond du Lac.
"I find myself often emotionally and spiritually drawn to individuals who are experiencing some type of unfair or uncontrollable hardship," she says. "I have often felt inspired and aligned with the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes (founders of St. Agnes Hospital), who made it a priority to serve these vulnerable individuals throughout their life's work, and I feel the call often to continue the work they started."
President and chief executive, HSHS Good Shepherd Hospital, Shelbyville, Illinois, a member of Hospital Sisters Health System
Aaron Puchbauer assumed his role in May 2017, less than five months after the rural Shelby Memorial Hospital was acquired by the Hospital Sisters Health System and was renamed HSHS Good Shepherd. His goals: to connect, engage and establish a healing culture with colleagues and the community.
"He hit the ground running with his well-honed skills in operations, health care, finance and a dedication to our mission," says Mary Starmann-Harrison, president and chief executive of Hospital Sisters Health System. "Aaron's passion for collaboration at all levels has led to the development of many initiatives that have drastically improved the patient care, culture and operations."
Programs and initiatives under his guidance have led employees, patients and the community to not only engage but embrace the culture of the founding sisters. He helped secure federal grants to expand behavioral health and substance abuse services. Under his leadership, the HSHS Good Shepherd Family Rural Health Clinic added three primary care providers in the last 18 months. The hospital improved its culture of safety score from the 83rd percentile to the 99th percentile. To accomplish this, he brainstormed with each department about ways to maximize safety for patients and staff.
Visible and engaged in the hospital, he also reaches out by rounding with physicians and staff, meeting with providers to discuss care improvement. He encourages staff members to pray with patients and physicians before surgery.
He volunteers in the Shelbyville Community Garden on the hospital campus, one of two plots created in partnership with a Presbyterian church. The hospital plot produces up to 200 pounds of produce that is distributed through the church pantry, used in free community meals and donated to the school district.
"I appreciate having a chance to address the mind, body and spiritual needs of the patients and colleagues," says Puchbauer, 37. "If your staff is engaged, they'll take great care of our patients and help us grow our services."
Dr. Nathaniel Schlicher
Regional medical director, quality assurance for emergency medicine, CHI Franciscan, Tacoma, Washington, a member of CommonSpirit Health
After 11 years with Catholic Health Initiatives, Dr. Nathaniel Schlicher refers to himself as "one of the old guys."
He is 37. He graduated from high school at 14, collected his first college degree when he was 17 and earned law and medical degrees by age 23. He also holds a master's in business administration.
"He has been a passionate leader, dedicated to his community, and will continue to be a driving force for years to come," says Jennifer Hanscom, chief executive of the Washington State Medical Association.
Schlicher helped design and write the program for the bed placement algorithm for the Mission Control Center, CHI Franciscan's artificial intelligence center that determines system capacity and the daily transfer pathways.
He set up protocols and programs to combat the opioid crisis. By sharing prescribing trends with colleagues, Schlicher reduced opioid prescriptions by more than 58% at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington, from January 2016 to March 2018. In that span, fewer than 4% of emergency department patients at the hospital received an opioid prescription, a rate that ranked it among the best in the nation for safe prescription practices. This program became the basis for the Better Prescribing, Better Treatment program that he now leads statewide across more than 40 health systems and 20,000 providers.
He also helped guide "ER is for Emergencies," geared to patients suffering from substance abuse disorder and mental illness who made frequent use of emergency rooms. In its first year, the program reduced opioid prescribing for the target population by 24% and saved the state more than $31 million.
Schlicher says there is no one right way to best care for patients and make the best health system possible, and that keeps him focused and fired-up. "Doing our best to figure it out day by day and solve the problems is exciting. It's a new challenge every day," says Schlicher, a former state legislator and president-elect of the Washington State Medical Association.
Vice president, mission integration and social responsibility, Red de Salud UC CHRISTUS, Santiago, Chile
Bernardita "Berni" Ureta is charged with overseeing the integration of Catholic identity and mission of the Red de Salud UC CHRISTUS, a partnership between CHRISTUS Health and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She has found ways big and small to bring the spiritual healing touch to patients, colleagues and community.
Ureta guided a palliative care program with a multidisciplinary team that supports expectant parents with a prenatal diagnosis indicating their baby will die before or shortly after birth. She designed a holistic training program for clinicians. She helped institute Code Lavender, a moment of prayer announced when a patient dies in the hospital. She developed a program for the Red de Salud to hire people with special needs. During the social unrest in 2019, she helped organize safe physical and virtual spaces for associates and community members to focus on well-being activities that helped them remain resilient through the crisis.
She guided the rigorous Catholic Identity Matrix process after Red de Salud UC joined CHRISTUS to assess the Chilean system's fidelity to its Catholic identity and mission. She helped assemble a team of 60 leaders from each system to integrate and align values "that make sure we can be a good Catholic institution," says Ureta, 36. "It was a challenge, but the reward was bigger and will last longer than one individual program."
Jeffrey M. Puckett, executive vice president and chief operating officer at CHRISTUS, says of Ureta, "We know she's not just a textbook or average health care leader. She's unafraid of tackling difficult problems, and she's as good as her word in finding solutions."
Before joining CHRISTUS in 2015, Ureta was a social worker in Brazil, Seville and Rome. "Jesus came to heal us, not only the physical but spiritual and emotional," she says. "I get up every day asking, ‘How I can get others to keep our mission alive in their lives and their work?'"
Copyright © 2020 by the Catholic Health Association
of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.