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Transforming Our Health Care Apostolate

October 18, 2012

Transforming Our Health Care Apostolate

Greetings again from Rome! As we continue to discuss the New Evangelization, here at the Synod, it is clear that the Church at times evangelizes more effectively by her efforts of healing, serving, helping, and loving, than by her many words.
 
Today, October 18, is the feast day of St. Luke, the patron saint of doctors, and, we believe, the first Christian physician. The Gospel of Luke is filled with episodes of Jesus showing compassion for those who are suffering, sick, and in need of help. What better time, then, to focus on the health care ministry in this archdiocese?
 
You may be tempted to think that Catholic health care is in retreat. We’ve seen the sad closing of many of our hospitals—like Saint Vincent’s in Manhattan, or, more recently, the news that the Benedictine Sisters, who have heroically run Benedictine Hospital in Kingston for 110 years, have come to the painful decision that they will have to give up sponsorship of that hospital. These losses are deeply felt in the communities in which they occur, and are very troubling to those—usually religious communities of women— who responded so generously to Jesus’ call to care for the sick by establishing these health care institutions more than a century ago. We will always be deeply in their debt for their courage, their wisdom, and their faith that enabled them to undertake the ministry of caring for the sick.
 
But these negative headlines can obscure the good news that is taking place in Catholic health care. Our own archdiocesan health care system, known as ArchCare, is dedicated to providing care with Catholic values to those who are unable to tend themselves. Because of the tremendous pressure on health care institutions to change and adapt, ArchCare has been seeking fresh and creative ways to embrace our elders, nurture children with grave disabilities, help patients with HIV cope with their illness, or bring comfort to those nearing the end of earthly life.
 
Changing attitudes toward how to best care for our beloved elders have meant growing demand for nursing home-level care delivered outside of its traditional residential nursing homes. At the same time, shifts in federal and state health policy have led to an ever-increasing share of government reimbursement dollars being redirected from institutional residential care to home- and community-based alternatives that allow seniors and people with disabilities to remain independent longer. The Church has always sought to keep up with the needs of people, in order to find ways where we can serve best.
 
ArchCare Senior Life, our growing Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE, is just one of the ways ArchCare is touching more lives. PACE delivers a wide array of services—from medical care, home care, and adult day care, to physical and occupational therapy, social services, even meals and transportation, as well as spiritual ministry—focused on keeping our elders healthy and safe in their own homes, close to the ones they love. I was honored to celebrate Mass earlier this year at the dedication of ArchCare’s newest PACE center at San Vicente de Paúl Catholic Healthcare Center in the South Bronx. The Bronx center and its sister program in Harlem together already care for nearly 300 seniors who otherwise would require full-time care in a nursing home. ArchCare plans to build additional PACE centers in the coming years to meet the growing demand for home and community-based care and, through its pending sponsorship of Visiting Nurse Regional Health Care System, will also become a leading provider of home care in the five boroughs of New York City and Westchester. Plans call for opening new PACE centers as well in the upper counties.
 
Caring for our elders, including our beloved elderly religious, has taken other forms as well. Residents of nursing homes across our area are reaping the benefits of more personalized care through ArchCare Advantage Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plan. ArchCare’s soon-to-be-introduced Medicaid Managed Long-Term Care Plan, ArchCare Community Life, will serve people with chronic illnesses in every corner of the archdiocese who want the freedom to choose their own health care providers. And at the Maryknoll Center in Ossining, ArchCare’s highly trained home care nurses are serving more than 100 retired sisters who are enrolled in ArchCare Home Advantage, our Medicare Advantage program for those who live outside of nursing homes.
 
Naturally, ArchCare has had to look very carefully at how best to use its existing resources to achieve its growth and diversification goals. To support its transformation, in the coming months ArchCare will transfer two of its seven skilled nursing facilities— Kateri Residence in Manhattan and St. Teresa’s Nursing Home in Middletown—to other experienced operators who have pledged to continue them as nursing homes and maintain the beds and jobs in the community. Although there is always some sadness when we have to give up running any institution, I am pleased that no resident will need to move due to either change in ownership, and that these moves will strengthen the work ArchCare is able to do elsewhere.
 
ArchCare has always shown an ability to identify unmet health needs, and then found ways to tackle them head on. For instance, they have renowned programs for people with HIV, Huntington’s Disease, and children with profound neurological impairments, and these were all borne out of gaps in care that others were ill-equipped or simply unable to address.
 
Even with the changes in the institutional presence of the Church, I am always encouraged by the many devoted Catholic faithful who have dedicated their lives to caring for the sick, our elders, and the injured, as doctors, nurses, therapists, clinicians, emergency medical technicians. Their faith inspires their healing ministry. I recently met a doctor on one of my many visits to a hospital, who said to me, “Cardinal, I’m not a Catholic—I really don’t practice any faith at all. However, I am always glad when I can hire a person of faith, because, along with their medical skills, they bring with them joy, and hope, to the people that they serve.” What a wonderful testimony to those in the health care field!
 
And so, at a time when many health care providers are struggling just to keep up with the changes taking place around them, you should be pleased to know that here in the Archdiocese of New York, ArchCare is well ahead of the game, taking decisive steps needed to remain a powerful and dynamic Catholic force in health care for years to come. True, there may be changes at some of our residential facilities, but our creative care of the elderly and sick in the name of Jesus, the Divine Physician, will continue stronger than ever in fresh, innovative ways.
 
Our Lady, Health of the sick, pray for us!
 
Saint Luke, pray for us!