Before interviewing for my current job, I first did some research on the company, a Catholic institution. I found it via Google and within moments was reading its mission statement and core values which was to “reveal God’s love for all, especially the poor and vulnerable, through our compassionate service.” Okay, I thought, I can embrace that. But, surely, I’ll find something with which I have insuperable conflict, something so contrary to my Adventist convictions that it would cause daily anxiety and disconnection. I read on:
Justice: “This is what the Lord requires of you: act with justice, love with kindness, and walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8
Excellence: “Much will be expected of those who are entrusted with much." Luke 12:48
Respect: “All people have been created in the image of God." Genesis 1:27
Compassion: “Jesus taught and healed with compassion for all." Matthew 4.24
Stewardship: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it." Psalm 24.1
These core values were also something I could fully embrace. In fact, now over two years after accepting the job, I have found precious little to bicker about. Indeed, I appreciate many things about my job as Alaska Region Director of Ethics for Providence Health and Services, the same company that is taking over the Adventist Walla Walla General Hospital (WWGH) in Washington state. On one occasion my boss gathered a few of her team together in preparation for a one-day course for hospital administrative leaders in the Alaska Region. The course, “Foundations of Catholic Healthcare Leadership,” was, in the words of my boss, “essentially about the person of Jesus and how we can help further his healing ministry in our community.”
I offer my thoughts today in wake of the recent news regarding the corporate decision to transfer WWGH to Providence Health. Though I am not clear what the management arrangement really means, it is enough to know that we will no longer operate this facility. What I hope to explore here is some history and perspective on cooperative ventures between Adventist and Catholic healthcare ministries in the United States. It should be noted that it is fairly common for faith-based hospitals to work out cooperative arrangements in order to navigate the difficult business climate of American healthcare.
We Adventists are presently involved in at least two deliberate partnerships with Catholic healthcare ministries of the sort that may help us put this Walla Walla event into broader context. The first is Centura Health, and the second is AMITA Health.
In 1996, Florida based “Adventist Health System (AHS) and Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) hospitals in Colorado formed Centura Health, a faith-based, nonprofit health care network.” Among other good reasons, the pragmatic business realities of our American healthcare industry pushed us together. Cooperation has allowed each side to continue its ministry. As Centura’s website notes: “Adventists establish hospitals that place an emphasis on holistic care and wellness promotion. Catholics are well-known for their tradition of caring for the poor. Both sponsors are inclusive in their values with an understanding of the vital role that all types of spirituality can play in health care.”i
This, and other joint ventures have nothing to do with ecumenism. They have nothing to do with fawning over Pope Francis and nothing to do with Jesuit infiltration into the Adventist Church. Those who would be drawn in by inane conspiracy theories are being distracted. These ministries are about helping care for people in our communities. I understand that some will dismiss me and others who work with Catholics in healthcare ministries. To do so, however, is against the express statement of the Adventist Church, “How Seventh-day Adventists View Roman Catholicism:
“Further, we gladly acknowledge that sincere Christians may be found in other denominations, including Roman Catholicism, and we work in concert with all agencies and bodies that seek to relieve human suffering and to uplift Christ before the world.”
The statement goes on to say: “Adventists seek to be fair in dealing with others. Thus, while we remain aware of the historical record and continue to hold our views regarding end-time events, we recognize some positive changes in recent Catholicism, and stress the conviction that many Roman Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ.”ii
Within Adventism and Catholic healthcare systems, Centura has led the way with a cooperative business model. I worked as an ethics consultant for the organization during the time when I was Theological Co-Director of the Center for Christian Bioethics at Loma Linda University. Centura generously supported the Center's work, and we helped provide ethics education for both sides of the corporation and consult services for the Adventist side. When the deal was struck there was a concerted effort to maintain cooperative but separate mission offices. Thus, there were two vice-president positions in mission established at corporate headquarters. As in any business, the organizational chart is in a routine state of flux but, suffice to say, the Catholic side does not want us messing with their theological or religious commitments, and the Adventist side feels the same way. I do not know details of the Walla Walla deal, but I will guess that Respect (one of Providence’s core values noted above) will mark the interactions with WWGH and its personnel.
In 2015, we watched a second cooperative arrangement form in the Chicago, Illinois area. AMITA Health is a “Joint Operating Company” bringing together the Alexian Brothers Health System with Adventist Midwest Health. According to their website:
“The name AMITA is inspired by words from several languages: friendship in Italian, honesty and truth in Hebrew, and spiritual light and boundlessness in Hindi. These words reflect our core values of friendship, truth, and mutual respect for all, as well as our faith-based call to healing. AMITA Health is about open, inclusive and compassionate care, inspired by a legacy of faith, and delivered with dignity and empathy.”iii
As they describe this ministry, I read a familiar phrase from my Adventist faith: “These ministries exist to continue the Alexian Brothers mission of caring for the sick, the poor and the dying and promoting the physical, mental, spiritual and social health and well-being of all individuals we serve.”iv Indeed, John B. Rapp, the Adventist leader helping operationalize the venture, told me in personal correspondence: “From my perspective, the mission of the Adventist Hospitals has been clarified—strengthening that which makes sense and works in fulfilling our mission and mercifully letting go of programs and behaviors that were in place simply because it ‘twas ever thus.’”
Once again, at the foundation of this combined Catholic and Adventist venture is the mission statement, “To extend the healing ministry of Jesus. Jesus proclaimed a message of love and forgiveness and showed compassion by healing the sick and caring for the poor and vulnerable. All persons of good will can embrace this mission, to love others, to show compassion, and to heal.” So, I ask you, in the context of corporate American healthcare, can we identify ourselves as “persons of good will” and as a result “embrace this mission?” Can we join hands with Catholics to minister to our communities and extend Jesus’ healing ministry? I cannot understand those among our Adventist community who feel the need to criticize such efforts to work together toward the betterment of our communities. This is not a dance with the devil.
AMITA health goes on to identify its core values as follows:
“God Honoring: Living respectfully in all human relationships
Justice: Resources provided to all, especially the poor and vulnerable
Compassion: To minister to others in their struggles
Integrity: Authenticity and honesty in our words and actions
Dignity: Treating all persons with respect, equality, and solidarity”v
I believe I can understand those who are emotionally hurt at the loss of Adventist health ministry in the Walla Walla Valley; we have been at it for 100 years. We are, however, one of many faith communities whom God has blessed with the ministry of caring for others through healthcare. The Alexian Brothers, for example, have been at this work for approximately 800 yearsvi and it also is struggling to survive in today's incredibly difficult American healthcare business market.vii We are not the only ones having difficulties, and it may be good for our ego to realize others have been blessed by God to offer the hand of Jesus to those who are ill, poor, and vulnerable. Frankly, we ought to feel honored by their willingness to work with us.
Similarly, the story of the Sisters of Providence has a rich history. Emilie Gamelin, a young woman who lost her husband and children within a few years, subsequently dedicated her life to caring for the poor in Montreal, Canada.viii The religious order she founded there, Sisters of Providence, was formed in 1843. In 1856, a bishop of the diocese of Nesqually, (now Seattle) Washington, placed a request with the Sister’s ministry to send some sisters to the Northwest where there was a great need for their ministry. Young Esther Pariseau, later Mother Joseph,ix lead a group of four and established what is now one of the oldest corporations in the state of Washington—a sprawling network of hospitals, clinics, and associated healthcare entities, with over fifty hospitals and 110,000 employees across Alaska, Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, and Texas. I rather doubt it is much of a salve to hurt feelings in Walla Walla to say that we are joining a fine tradition of dedicated people, but it is a truth worth mentioning.
Recently, Providence Health & Servicesx merged with Saint Joseph Healthxi to form the parent company Providence Saint Joseph Health (PSJH).xii This was the blending of two healthcare systems built by nuns who no longer actively manage them, something akin to combining Adventist Health based in Roseville, California with Loma Linda Health in California. Such mergers and cooperative agreements are extraordinarily difficult, but the fact is our present-day healthcare business environment in America may well demand it. Note also that under the PSJH corporate umbrella the following additional corporations offer healthcare under their own brands:
-Swedish hospital (http://www.swedish.org/ )
-Hoag health, formerly a Presbyterian hospital ( https://www.hoag.org/ )
-Kadlec healthcare ( https://www.kadlec.org/ )
-Facey Medical Group ( http://www.facey.com/ )
-Covenant Health, a blending of Methodist and Catholic hospitals (http://www.covenanthealth.org/About-Us/History-and-Milestones.aspx )
-Pacific Medical Centers ( http://www.pacificmedicalcenters.org/ )
It just hurts pretty bad when it happens in our own backyard. It is also true that while the mission and values statements on these healthcare websites (theirs and ours) are the finest expression of our deepest aspirations, they don’t always reflect the hard, day-by-day reality of corporate business. Sometimes these aspirational statements ring empty when our own jobs, clinics, and hospitals are shut down. Some of us cry foul and impugn leadership. That would be unnecessary and unfair. Although I realize it is easier said than done, let us draw on the best of our own faith, community and the virtues of each. Let us do our best to work together for the community good as we extend the healing ministry of Jesus our Christ.
viiA book published just this month may be a good, fresh analysis of the harsh realities of the American Healthcare Industry: Elisabeth Rosenthal, MD. An American Sickness: How Heatlhcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take it Back. Penguin Press, 2017.
Mark F. Carr is an ordained minister and theological ethicist with experience as a pastor, pilot, commercial fisherman, professor, and now clinical ethicist. He writes from his home town of Anchorage, Alaska.
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