In 1990 the Sisters of Charity began offering a mentoring program to ensure that sisters who serve on boards of its sponsored institutions can fulfill their commitment to effective stewardship.
For participating healthcare facilities, the program offers an assurance that their trustees will have a clear direction, common information, and a mission- and value-based orientation process. The new trustees gain a basic understanding of their role and responsibilities as trustees, including the ministerial dimension. Mentors in the program benefit by refreshing their understanding of issues facing trustees.
Participants in the mentoring program must meet the criteria for all trustees and demonstrate a special commitment to the congregation's mission and philosophy. The mentors are selected on the basis of their experience, availability, and commitment to the congregation's mission and philosophy.
After participating in at least one board meeting, the new trustees, along with their mentors, attend an orientation seminar that focuses on sponsorship's history, purposes, principles, and policies and the system's services, roles, and functions. A second seminar is held nine months later for evaluation and follow-up. In addition, the mentors and trustees meet regularly before and/or after each board meeting to discuss pertinent issues, board dynamics, and the new trustees' participation.
The complex healthcare environment and the demands of responsible governance can be daunting and confusing to newly appointed board members. Thus in 1990 the Sisters of Charity began offering a mentoring program to ensure that sisters who serve on boards of its sponsored institutions can fulfill their commitment to effective stewardship.
A collaborative effort of the sponsors and the Sisters of Charity Healthcare Systems, (SCHS), Cincinnati, the program addresses the orientation and educational needs of sisters serving as first-time trustees on healthcare institutional boards. Since the program's inception, 10 new trustees and 8 mentors have participated in facilities throughout SCHS.
The mentoring program is coordinated by the Sponsorship Effectiveness Steering Committee, a subcommittee of the governing board of the Sisters of Charity that oversees the relationship between the congregation and its sponsored institutions and programs. The committee collaborates with the systems' mission effectiveness office in planning and implementing the mentoring program.
Benefits of the Program
For participating healthcare facilities, the mentoring program offers an assurance that their trustees will have a clear direction, common information, and a mission- and value-based orientation process. The new trustees and mentors benefit as well.
The new trustees gain a basic understanding of their role and responsibilities as trustees, including the ministerial dimension. They learn about the mission and values that give direction to the healing ministry, the complex issues changing healthcare, the governance structures of the healthcare systems, and the heritage of the healthcare ministry.
Mentors in the program also benefit by refreshing their understanding of these issues. They are given an opportunity to share their knowledge, experience, and commitment as a trustee and to establish a common basis for discussion, evaluation, and growth. Those of us who have served as informal mentors for other trustees discover that our own agenda review in preparation for board meetings becomes more focused and analytical.
Participants in the mentoring program must meet the criteria for all trustees and demonstrate a special commitment to the congregation's mission and philosophy as it is carried out in the member institution. The new trustees must agree to:
- Undertake in-depth education, specific skill development, and suggested independent enrichment study
- Attend basic orientation programs and follow-up sessions
- Make attendance at board meetings and pertinent programs and functions a priority
- Participate in the evaluation process
The mentors are "seasoned" sister trustees, as well as lay trustees, selected on the basis of their experience, availability, and commitment to the mission and philosophy of the Sisters of Charity. For example, Sr. Mary Assunta Stang, SC, former president and treasurer of the Sisters of Charity, brings a wealth of experience and understanding to her role as mentor. "I felt good about being able to support new people coming into the field and in seeing the growth and increased confidence in their board participation," she said.
Mentors must communicate the goals of the program and give updates to the CEO and to the total board or a nominating committee of the board. In addition, the mentors:
- Attend orientation and follow-up programs with the new trustee
- Review with the new trustee the purposes, policies, codes, and related resources of the institution
- Review significant agenda items with the trustee before board meetings, and schedule time afterward to clarify issues and discuss performance
- Help the new trustee assess her performance, strengths, and weaknesses and develop goals for continued growth and development
- Evaluate the new trustee and give reports to the designated committee regarding progress of the mentoring experience
The Mentoring Process
New trustees at SCHS facilities usually attend an orientation session before their first board meeting. After participating in at least one board meeting, the trustees, along with their mentors, attend another orientation session.
The seminar, held in the boardroom of the healthcare systems, focuses on the sponsors' history, purposes, principles, policies, relationships, and effectiveness plan. The session also includes an introduction to the system's services, roles, and functions; a tour of the office; and a chance to interact with system staff.
A second seminar is held about nine months later for evaluation and follow-up. Participants start out sharing insights gained since seminar one. Then they learn about strategic planning and trustees' role and responsibilities; mission effectiveness and ethics; current issues and challenges in Catholic healthcare; and financial operations in the systems' facilities.
In addition to the scheduled seminars, the mentors and trustees meet regularly before and/or after each board meeting to discuss pertinent issues, board dynamics, and the new trustees' participation. Mentors use the sponsors' policy document, the systems' trustee manual, and any current, appropriate informational material in guiding and educating their charges.
The Sponsorship Effectiveness Steering Committee solicits feedback on the mentoring program through written evaluations completed by all participants and personal meetings with trustees at sponsored institutions. Oral and written feedback from the new trustees and mentors indicate the program has been well received and provides a sound basis for effective trustee development and participation. In some cases the program has helped the facilities and new trustees realize that the position is not meant for everyone.
One sister who successfully completed the program, Sr. Louise Lears, SC, is currently vice president of mission effectiveness at Penrose-St. Francis Healthcare System, Colorado Springs, CO. "The program enabled me to get a clearer understanding of the local community environment and the structure and direction of the hospital," she reports. "Both the hospital orientation before the first meeting and the sessions with my mentor made me feel much more comfortable in assuming the trustee role at St. Joseph Healthcare System in Albuquerque."
Each year, based on participant feedback and the systems' current situation, the Sponsorship Effectiveness Steering Committee reassesses the systems' needs and adapts the program accordingly. The question of the hour is whether to broaden the participant base to include new lay trustees in the mentoring program. Extending the mentoring program to our lay trustees will strengthen their understanding of our sponsorship purposes and tradition.
The Sisters of Charity Governing Board believes that knowledgeable and involved trustees, both sister and lay, will enable us to play a vital role in the direction of our sponsored institutions. With women and men who see trusteeship as a true ministry, we continue and extend our mission and our heritage in the healing ministry of the Church.
Sr. Coyle is president, Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Mount St. Joseph, OH.
Copyright © 1994 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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