Sister Mary Haddad was quick to recognize what she was getting into when she was named president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association. “I have some big shoes to fill,” she told Modern Healthcare in April after it was announced that she would replace Sister Carol Keehan, who retired after 14 years leading the organization. Haddad was no stranger to Catholic healthcare though, having spent nearly a decade at the CHA, most recently as vice president of sponsorship and mission services. In the CEO role since July 1, Haddad has been meeting with member organizations and is in the midst of a strategic planning process at the association. She met recently with Modern Healthcare’s editorial board to talk about her priorities. The following is an edited transcript.
MH: You’ve only been in the CEO role a few months, but can you tell us your priorities?
Haddad: I’m an educator. Before I entered the Sisters of Mercy, I worked in social work and then worked in healthcare. All three of those things have really shaped my vision for the work I’ve done at CHA. I got there in 2009 and was working with governance boards and sponsors of Catholic healthcare.
Moving into this role, I’m now looking at more of the work we do around advocacy and public policy, which wasn’t a part of my past with the CHA. We really have those two primary pillars of the organization: the work around Catholic identity and church relationships, and the work around advocacy. I’m in a learning mode around where we need to be and where we’re going. In addition to moving into this role, we’ve just kicked off a new strategic planning process.
I’m seeing our health ministries developing greater partnerships in the communities in order to provide better care for the patients we serve and looking at those social needs that impact their health. That’s a growing area and I’d like to believe, because of my background, I’ll have a pretty strong entrée into that and be able to articulate some of that linkage.
That’s where (Catholic healthcare) started—looking at the needs of women and children and then that grew into housing and education and all the other aspects of care that eventually evolved into health delivery and providing health services.
Sister Carol, my predecessor, did a phenomenal job of helping move the Affordable Care Act. It’s important that we continue to build upon that. We talked about access, now we have to talk about affordability and cost. It’s one thing to say, “You have insurance coverage,” but if you can’t pay the deductibles and you can’t pay the premiums, then that’s a problem. And many people are forgoing some care in order to provide for their other basic needs around rent, utilities, food and education.
I’m not ready to put my stake in the ground, because I think there’s a lot more that I need to hear. I’m going around and visiting with our CEOs and their executive teams. To really hear from management is critical, because that’s where the rubber hits the road.
MH: As you meet with members, are you hearing any consistency around how to address affordability and cost?
Haddad: We haven’t spoken specifically about strategy. … That’s where we’re seeing a lot of coming together around the mergers, around new partnerships. We’ve got to figure out how to provide services in a way that makes this more equitable.
When I worked with sponsors on some of this I said, “What are the common values?” You lead with that. Not, “What do you want to do?” But, collectively, “What do we have in common and how we can build upon that?”
I’m a big believer in partnerships. Not only partnerships with other providers that can augment services and help strengthen services, but around innovation. As we see some of these tech companies working with Catholic healthcare, they know how to do it better than we do, so why do we have to reinvent the wheel? I also think it’s true around the social service partnerships.
I know in Chicago, Mercy Housing and Amita Health have a real strong collaborative. I get pretty excited about that stuff, because sometimes I think people have been so bent on keeping what they’ve had in the past and protecting that, and have not had the trust and the courage to reach out and ask, “What is needed for the next generation? How is this going to look differently?” We’ve got to have some pretty great people out here who are willing to do it.
MH: We’ve seen some scrutiny of mergers involving Catholic healthcare recently, largely around access to some services. How do you see the role of the CHA and Catholic healthcare in that type of environment?
Haddad: We’re very clear, we don’t do abortions. We make no bones about it. And I would say that if we’re in an area and we’re the only provider, it’s not because we are controlling the market and not letting anybody else. They don’t choose to be there. I don’t think we should be faulted for not providing that service simply because we’re willing to go where no one else has gone.
In these rural areas, bring it on. If (competitors) want to come, then come. But they haven’t or they have left because it hasn’t been a lucrative enterprise for them to be in these communities. We’ve stayed and I think we have a history of going where there is a need. I don’t think I want us to apologize for that.
MH: As you mentioned, Sister Carol was very involved in passage of the ACA. Are your members and the CHA talking about the what-ifs surrounding the court case seeking to strike down the law?
Haddad: Everyone is holding on with bated breath to see what’s going to happen. People I’ve spoken with have very strong feelings about it saying, “If we have to start over from square one, this is absolutely ridiculous.”
I have great concern about people who are going to be so impacted if that is the case. It’s almost so typical of a throwaway society. If that doesn’t work, we don’t want to fix it. Let’s go get something new. That’s our (national) attitude, right?
I was talking to a senator and he has great concerns that the case is not going to be in our favor. So it’s going to get caught up in legal battles, going back and forth for a while. One of the concerns if that happens is what will be the response?
I haven’t spoken with anyone that has a strategy in place and said, “This is how Catholic healthcare is going to respond.” Now, that doesn’t mean it’s not out there yet. But I guarantee everybody’s got their finger on that pulse waiting to see what’s going to happen.
What I’ve been hearing from them right now is more around the Medicaid expansion and also about the work requirements. It’s a great concern.