“Health care is very complex,” says Sr. Ellen LaCapria, DC, “and within that complexity, how do we keep our Catholic identity?” Sr. Ellen figures prominently as the  NCR begins a three part series on Catholic Health Care  by Alice Popovici with an article on the identity issues faced by Catholic Health Care.

Daughter of Charity Sr. Ellen LaCapria, is a hospital vice president of mission integration,  a position found in virtually every Catholic hospital in the U.S. — is to ensure the institution maintains its Catholic identity, follows ethical and religious directives, and continues the mission of the founding religious order. In other words, LaCapria says, to integrate the business-driven environment of a hospital with the mission of the religious order that founded it.

It’s not an easy undertaking, considering how much the health ministry of the Daughters of Charity — who opened the Baltimore hospital in 1862 to care for the area’s sick and poor in the midst of the Civil War– has grown in the last 150 years.

Catholic health care in the U.S. goes back to 1727, when the French Ursuline sisters arrived in New Orleans and established a hospital for the poor, but many Catholic health care ministries operating today got their start  roughly 150 years ago. (“The country had only 600 trained nurses at the start of the Civil War. All were Catholic nuns. This is one of the best-kept secrets in our nation’s history,”  according to Civil War chaplain Father William Barnaby Faherty.

“Health care is very complex,” LaCapria said, “and within that complexity, how do we keep our Catholic identity?”

It is a question Catholic health care leaders have been asking for decades, a question that began to resonate more loudly about 20 years ago, when many of the mission integration leadership positions were formally created. Now, the 636 Catholic hospitals and 59 Catholic health systems in the U.S. (according to the Catholic Health Association’s most recent figures) face some of the same difficulties as their secular counterparts: struggling financially while bracing themselves for an increased demand for services in the coming years, as baby boomers age and grow frail. But as they navigate a health care landscape that grows more complex and uncertain, leaders in Catholic health care ministry say they are keeping up with technology and trends in patient care, doing whatever is needed to continue the work into the future.

The article traces the origins of the ministry and the rise of “Mission Integration” efforts as professional laity took up more prominent leadership role as health care became  more complex and the number of trained sisters decreased.

Sr. Kathleen Popko, president of her congregation in Holyoke, Mass. said the future of health care is “patient-focused care” that improves a person’s experience, as opposed to the trend in 1990s, when “the person got lost in the shuffle. “ Health care is now moving away from the institutional model, toward home-based care, she added, and there are many moving pieces to consider — including the rising cost of health care and a growing older population. Mergers are another issue. “In that model,” she asked, “how do you continue to maintain Catholic identity?”

Sr. Ellen LaCapria, who is an artist and art therapist by profession, says every mission integration leader brings unique talents to the job. She said, “That gift that I have in my creativity can help enhance the healing ministry of Jesus in the hospital environment” and continue the original mission of the Daughters of Charity: “Love of God through service of others.”

This is the first of a three-part series on Catholic health care. Next: The challenges Catholic health care must meet.

Follow the historic  contributions of the Daughters of Charity as nursing pioneers long before Florence Nightingale and their special ministries  during the Civil War.

A work by Sr. Ellen

Tags: , , , ,