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Tersigni focuses on care of world's poor as president of Vatican group

March 1, 2016

By BETSY TAYLOR

Ascension President and Chief Executive Anthony R. Tersigni is two years into his four-year term as president of the International Confederation of Catholic Health Care Institutions. This committee of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers supports and promotes the work of Catholic organizations in health care. It studies health care policy, explains church teaching on health issues and fosters connections that could bring the resources and knowledge of the developed world to bear on health care issues in the developing world.


Tersigni

Tersigni spoke with Catholic Health World about Pope Francis' address to the pontifical council during its conference in November, the confederation's work and Ascension's global efforts to care for poor and underserved populations.

What is the most important work of the Vatican's International Confederation of Catholic Health Care Institutions? What are your goals for your term as president?
It's structured to provide its members access to competent authorities for consultations and contributions involving theological and spiritual reflection as well as pastoral research with moral and technical assistance. The other piece is it strives to promote health and healing and peace and reconciliation through assistance and care for the sick and suffering persons, especially those individuals most in need.

In terms of my priorities for the organization, it's really run by the board of directors. We want to promote theological education and spiritual formation of those engaged in the work around the world. We want to develop a networking system where we can provide technical, professional and moral assistance for a number of institutions around the world.

How large is the membership, and what organizations are in the membership?
The process we're in right now is getting a handle on the Catholic institutions around the world, which has been a task in and of itself. … We've been working diligently with local ordinaries around the world, trying to get our arms around how many Catholic hospitals are there, are there associations? Not every country has something similar to the Catholic Health Association. We're reaching out and asking for information, at this point, in terms of members. We have members on the board that represent regions around the world, but even they are having difficulty getting (their) arms around all of this. It has been an ongoing process.

How does this work differ from work you've done in the past related to health care and care for the poor?
The primary distinction is relative to the global nature of the work, and those who collaborate in the confederation are from all over the world, representing (organizations of) various sizes. It has really been an eye-opener to see the challenges and opportunities we face in common as we seek to live out our mission and service, even though we may be coming from very different realities.

It's amazing to see how river blindness may be a very important issue in one part of the world, and it's something we know is curable in this part of the world. It's trying to gain an understanding of what the issues really are, and how we can use expertise from around the world to begin treating those diseases we know can be eradicated.

Did Pope Francis charge you with specific tasks related to improving global health or care for the poor?
He gave direction to the whole confederation. He wanted us to continue to improve public health around the world. He stressed, and I agree, that it can't be achieved by isolated agencies and organizations working independently. It's only through collaborations that we can improve health and the common good. He refers to it as "a culture of encounter" and so that was a message for the entire organization. He would really like our international confederation to convene an international conference in 2017. We haven't landed on a time or a theme for that. It's a discussion we're having with the board of directors but also with the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and the Vatican.

When you talk about greater collaboration globally, what form will the communication take?
Through Ascension and our information services, we've put together a website for the confederation, and now we're working with the Vatican to take over that website and really have it continually maintained and updated. It's our main means of communicating with our members across the world. That's probably how we'll collaborate and share resources — through the Internet, which is available in most parts of the world.

What are the responsibilities of Catholic health care providers in the developed world to their counterparts in poorer nations?
I believe leading a Catholic health ministry in the world is a tremendous responsibility. I can just speak to Ascension. We've taken a number of steps in recent years to demonstrate our global commitment. We've established a subsidiary organization called Ascension Global Mission that oversees our international efforts and really strives to improve the health and living status for poor and vulnerable populations in developing countries. In most cases, we collaborate with local and global communities to foster long-term, sustainable change. Last year alone, we did in excess of 30 medical missions to some underdeveloped countries where we go in, as other organizations do, and do great work for a week or two and volunteer our time and leave. And the problem with that is that there's really no aftercare in many parts of the world. And so what we're trying to do through Ascension Global Mission, working with other partners, is (to focus on) building the necessary infrastructure. For example, Ascension Global Mission also supports the partnership called the Global Health Partnership Initiative, which was established by four religious communities in the United States.

These organizations have focused on going into undeveloped countries and really listening to — and learning from — leaders in those countries. Our first foray in that was in Guatemala. We explored concepts and lessons for improving the health of the people of Guatemala, particularly young children. We formed working groups in different areas, such as water and sanitation, health education, hygiene, so on and so forth.

I believe that we, as Ascension, see that we have an obligation to go beyond our boundaries. We did the same thing when we created Health City Cayman Islands. It was really meant to bring tertiary care services for the first time to many areas of the Caribbean, Central and South America. I think if you look around CHA's membership, you see a number of organizations that are involved internationally. 
CHRISTUS Health, for example, is a very good example of an organization that has developed a great reputation and great service in other parts of the world. I think there's an obligation, but I think we're all participating in it as well.

Will some of the work that Ascension has done in Guatemala or that other CHA members have done in other countries be used as the foundation for some of the work of the International Confederation of Catholic Health Care Institutions?
Yes. We're hoping to bring that learning that we're experiencing in this country to the world. Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, (CHA's president and chief executive officer), is a member of the board of directors of the confederation as (are) the leaders of Catholic health associations in Australia, Canada, India and so on. We believe we're in a great position to be able to provide resources and networking capabilities for others around the world. We hope to take advantage of all the great work that's happening not only within the Catholic Health Association of the United States but also other parts of the world.

 

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