July 2, 2016

Sister Judith Ann Karam: Looking to the future with fidelity to mission, leadership formation

Sister Judith Ann Karam, CSA, penned the following article reflecting on the first year of the Catholic Health Association’s second century and about the work of fulfilling the ministry's promise for a future of hope. The article was published in the July 1 issue of Catholic Health World. 

Sister Judith Ann recently concluded her 2-15-2016 term as board chair of the Catholic Health Association of the United States. She is congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine and chair of the public juridic person of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

The full text of her reflection is posted here:

Looking to the future with fidelity to mission, leadership formation

By Sister Judith Ann Karam, CSA
As published in Catholic Health World, July 1, 2016

"And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays"

Excerpted from "June" by James Russell Lowell

This time last year at the 2015 Catholic Health Assembly, we marked a rare achievement for any organization — CHA celebrated its first hundred years. I thought of the poet's blissful words when I sat down to reflect on the first year of CHA's second century. In June 2015, the heavens felt in tune with our joy as we celebrated our mission, vision and values through our anniversary Liturgy at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. President Barack Obama addressed the Catholic Health Assembly to express his gratitude for what we do in serving our country, especially our advocacy for the poor and vulnerable. CHA's Membership Assembly marked the centennial by approving historic bylaw changes that opened our membership to health systems and hospitals that share our values and mission, but may do so with new models of governance or for-profit ownership structures.

The 100th year celebration was memorable; and since then we set about the work of fulfilling the ministry's promise for a future of hope, one where we advance our vision for making quality care accessible for all, with special regard for the poor and vulnerable, and continue to serve people and communities with an expanding vision of health.

Ensuring that Catholic health care thrives as a vibrant ministry of the church, even in the midst of changing health financing systems, ownership structures and business models is critical to our ability to continue serving God's people. We must safeguard our treasured Catholic identity even as we are open to affiliations with other-than-Catholic partners. Our new partners are attracted not only to the success of our institutions but also to the faith-based ministry; and they are responding with enthusiasm and a renewed dedication to excel in their health care mission.

We know a priority for the CHA membership involves our association's relationship as a ministry of the Catholic Church. We are grateful for the presence on our board of Bishop Timothy Doherty, who serves as the Episcopal liaison representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and for board member Bishop George Thomas. Both of our bishops celebrate Mass with us as we continue at every board meeting to pray together and reflect on our mission. Our "spiritual director" who has planned prayer and Mass and reflection, is Sr. Patricia Talone, RSM. She will be sorely missed for all that she has offered the membership when she retires from CHA this summer. Well done, good and faith-filled servant!

Leadership formation continues to be a high priority for all of us as it is directly related to the sustainability of the ministry. CHA staff did excellent work in organizing and presenting a February symposium on Catholic identity and institutional integrity in a time of rapid change. That meeting brought together the right mix of people—sponsors, system chief executives and mission executives—to talk about formation and mission sustainability, and participants said they would appreciate continued opportunities for continuing dialogue on these priorities.

Throughout the year, the board heard from panels of experts on contemporary issues related to Catholic ethics, social determinants of health, social justice, the impact of Medicaid expansion on enrollees and providers, and other significant topics. This has been a very effective tool, developed by the staff, to support the board's focus on important topics pertinent to the real world experience of the Catholic ministry in the health care marketplace.

I also want to thank board committee members who work diligently throughout the year on a range of issues. To name a few accomplishments in 2015-16, the Governance Committee processed the first applications for membership under the revised membership criteria. It is making a focused effort to recruit diverse candidates for board openings. The Advocacy and Public Policy Committee kept the board abreast of developments during the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act, the Omnibus bill and the Budget Reconciliation. That committee also is tracking progress on legislation supported by CHA that would enhance mental health access in the U.S. And this year a special task force of board members and representatives of the CHA membership began planning for leadership of CHA into the future.

As I wish Bob Henkel a successful tenure as CHA's 2016-17 chair, I want to take this opportunity to give heartfelt thanks to Sr. Carol, to CHA's amazing staff, and to my colleagues on the board and in the membership at large. I have relied on your support and guidance. To all of you, thank you for serving CHA with your dedication and commitment. It is well worth the effort!

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From its Cleveland headquarters, the Sisters of Charity Health System provides oversight, leadership and strategic direction to more than 20 organizations responding to community needs in Canton and Cleveland, Ohio, and South Carolina.

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