By Barb Arland-Fye
CLINTON — While debate continues about what constitutes Catholic identity, Mercy Medical Center-Clinton has taken a proactive approach to the issue. The Catholic nonprofit health care organization serves a bi-state region comprising about 72,500 people, and recently piloted a program to assess and enhance its Catholic identity. Mercy’s leaders describe the experience as invaluable.
“This was a way to get an initial assessment. We asked ourselves, ‘Can we quantify and more rigorously answer the question: are we living out our mission, are we living out our Catholic identity?’” said Sean Williams, president and CEO. “The very process of asking the detailed questions helped reinforce the importance of our Catholic identity,” he said.
The assessment tool that Mercy used — Catholic Identity Matrix (CIM) — helps Catholic health care institutions evaluate the degree to which policies and operating processes are consistent with the aspirations of the Catholic moral tradition. The assessment was patterned after the self-appraisal process developed by Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Program and provided the structure for the CIM process. As a member of Mercy Health Network based in Des Moines, and Trinity Health based in Novi, Mich., Mercy-Clinton was invited to participate in the CIM pilot project.
“We volunteered. To me it sounded very, very exciting,” said Joan Noe, vice president of mission and ambulatory care. Approximately 40 Mercy associates met in April to begin the process. They divided into small groups to explore the six principles of Catholic health care: solidarity with those who live in poverty; holistic care; respect for human life; participatory community of work and mutual respect; stewardship; and acting in communion with the Church.
“The teams were selected from across the organization — from people in leadership to front-line people,” said Noe. Participants received training on the particular principle they studied. The team studying participatory community of work and mutual respect, for example, looked at subsidiarity, the idea of empowering people to make decisions at the local level.
Reconvening a month later, the group worked to assess how all six principles were reflected in the hospital’s key processes and to identify opportunities for further integrating the hospital’s mission into current clinical and business practices.
“Part of this was to capture what we’re doing and what we want to build on,” Noe said. Take for example, the principle of solidarity with those who live in poverty. “It’s not just providing care; it’s how we do that. It connects us to human dignity. If someone comes into the hospital and doesn’t have insurance, they get the very best care we have to give. Human beings are created by God and how we treat them should reflect that.”
Laura Gassman, a nurse supervisor and clinical educator, participated on one of the teams. “For me, personally, it was very nice to sit down with a wide variety of people from all over the hospital and dialogue about what makes us different, why we choose to work in a Catholic hospital. It just reaffirms the value that we provide health care based in faith.”
Asked which health care principle Mercy demonstrates most fully, she said: “I think it’s our solidarity with those who live in poverty. When we dialogued among our small groups and in the group as a whole we talked about how we live in a community that’s not very affluent. These are our relatives; they may be our friends, our neighbors … we think about what we’re doing when we send (patients) home. We actively engage in fundraising and providing for people less fortunate than us.”
Mercy didn’t appear to be lacking in any of the principles, but “I think there’s always room for improvement in anything you do,” Gassman said.
As a Catholic herself, she appreciates Mercy’s Catholic identity and the guiding principles which serve people of all faiths. She believes that when patients come through the doors, they know that faith is important. “When you are faith-based you have a respect for others. There’s a mind, body, spirit connection,” she said.
Hospital observes Catholic health care ethical directives
The Catholic Messenger asked Mercy Medical Center-Clinton questions about ethical issues that impact Catholic health care principles. Joan Noe, Mercy’s vice president of mission and ambulatory care, responded:
How does Mercy address end-of-life ethics? For example, what is the policy concerning removal of feeding tubes and ventilators when a family makes that request?
Mercy considers our response to end-of-life issues one of the most important ways of distinguishing ourselves as a Catholic health care ministry. We think that one of the ways we can carry on the healing ministry of Jesus is to provide patients and families facing end-of-life challenges compassionate, clinically effective palliative care that addresses the body, mind and spirit. Feeding tubes and ventilators are therapies used for various medical purposes. We do not use them when they prolong and delay the death of a patient. On the other hand we do not hasten the death of anyone. Each situation is approached individually. The Ethical and Religious directives help us to apply our Catholic moral tradition in ways that meet the needs of individuals at this most sacred time of life.
What procedures does Mercy have in place to avoid the situation that occurred in a Catholic hospital in the Phoenix Diocese where an unborn child was aborted because the mother’s life was in danger?
The situation in Phoenix involving a pregnant woman with a life-threatening condition is a unique, tragic, and very rare instance. At Mercy we do all that we can to protect the life of a mother and her child. This case is the subject of much debate and discernment within the Catholic moral theological community. We value our relationship with Bishop Martin Amos and would always involve him, time permitting, in discernments of the appropriate interpretation of the Ethical and Religious Directives.
What is Mercy’s policy concerning sterilization surgery?
We follow the Ethical and Religious Directives which prohibit elective sterilizations.
Does Mercy have a hospital ethics committee?
Mercy has an Ethics Committee made up of associates from a variety of disciplines, including community members. The committee meets on a regular basis every other month, and is guided by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.
Mercy Medical Center-Clinton: a nonprofit, full-service community based acute care hospital
Two campuses, 342 licensed beds, including 183 long-term care beds and 23-bed dementia care unit
Physicians: Approximately 75
Fiscal Year 2011: Provided $3,184,468 in charity care, $455,704 for Ministry for the Poor and Underserved, and $601,186 for Ministry for the Broader Community