By JULIE MINDA
June 9, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic that has been fundamentally altering life in the U.S. for months and the civil unrest that has been shaking the nation for weeks are adding urgency to long-standing failings in the health system and introducing unexpected challenges.
In comments delivered during the virtual Catholic Health Assembly, CHA leadership provided indications about how the association likely will sharpen its focus on social justice, particularly as it relates to addressing health disparities, improving health care access and creating more diverse workplaces.
Kevin Sexton, outgoing CHA board chair, incoming speaker of the membership assembly and retired president and chief executive of Holy Cross Health of Silver Spring, Maryland, said what the nation needs is "major healing change. We in Catholic health care have a great opportunity to contribute to that change, and we must respond. I believe we will."
During the virtual assembly, Sr. Mary Haddad, RSM, CHA president and chief executive officer, said Catholic health care will "need to be strategic and more intentional about providing access to care for everyone in our communities."
Julie Manas, incoming CHA board chair and president of Ascension St. Vincent's North Region, said that in line with CHA's goal to reduce health care disparities in the U.S., the board will meet in late July to discuss how the association and its members can best address disparities — not just with words, but also with action.
Sexton said Catholic health care systems and facilities must begin, or deepen, efforts to hire, promote and train a diverse staff. The ministry must always ensure diverse voices are heard in decision-making including on frontlines as the care is delivered.
Sexton said it's important that Catholic health providers locate their services in communities most in need and that they thoroughly evaluate how and why health outcomes differ among populations in order to address root causes of those differentials.
CHA and its members must continue to advocate at every level of government for policies that root out institutional racism, he said. "We'll be most effective when we advocate for the common good."
Elevating long-term care
During the virtual assembly three CHA board members offered insights and framed concerns in prerecorded remarks that Sexton and Manas responded to live.
Outgoing CHA board member Karen Reich called for the nation to prioritize the well-being of vulnerable elders, rather than downplaying their needs. Reich is chief executive and system senior services executive for Bon Secours St. Petersburg Health System of St. Petersburg, Florida. She said in the short term, this means ensuring long-term care staff and residents have access to the personal protective gear and testing supplies they need to be protected from coronavirus infection — something that has not always happened in long-term care facilities across the nation amid the pandemic. Reich said long-term care sites need better guidance on reopening. Over the longer term, these facilities also will need to have their liability concerns addressed.
Manas said that the ministry needs to support long-term care institutions and ensure elders have a voice, especially in Catholic health care.
Sexton agreed that long-term care must be respected as a vital part of the health care system. He said a big issue to pay attention to as a policy priority is making sure long-term care facilities are paid in a fair manner by government insurers. And, he noted, the reimbursement should be linked more closely with quality indicators.
Expanding technology use
Dr. Rhonda Medows is the association's board chair-elect and president of population health management for Providence St. Joseph Health of Renton, Washington. She said in a prerecorded video that the pandemic has made it clear that population health — the health and well-being of the people in communities — must remain a priority. Health inequity must be addressed, including by engaging social services, community resources and social supports, she said.
Technologies and technology applications such as telehealth, telepsychology, home monitoring and artificial intelligence can be applied to greatly expand how populations of people are cared for, Medows said.
In his video commentary, CHA board member Darryl Robinson, senior executive vice president and chief human resources officer of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health, said that it will be important to assess what has been done right and what can be done better when it comes to the ways the ministry has been using technology to alter how it delivers care amid the pandemic. He cautioned though, that moving forward, health care providers should not let technology dominate the care experience — it should instead complement the hands-on, holistic care that clinicians deliver.
Sexton said he is optimistic this can be done.
Sexton said of the challenges and opportunities involved with progressing in this time of great change, "I believe Catholic health care is made for this time. Let us move forward together."
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