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PERSPECTIVE: Providence looks at past, present, future

Each year, Providence St. Peter Hospital, along with all Providence facilities that constitute Providence Health and Services, reserve a week in mid-September to celebrate Mission Week. This historical week coincides with the anniversary of the death of Blessed Emilie Tavernier Gamelin, a woman who devoted her life to welcoming the homeless, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and easing the needs of the poor. It was this intentional ministry that led the bishop of Montreal and her to found a religious order we know today as the Sisters of Providence.

Mission Week is one of many opportunities throughout the year when we as Providence reflect on our past, our present and our future to envision for us, the People of Providence, where God (Divine Providence) will lead us to minister in the future. This particular week is special for us at Providence, and we hope that you, as one of the communities we serve, will hold us in thoughts and prayers as Mission Week get under way Sunday.

Journey to today: Following in the footsteps of the Sisters has many rewards and many challenges. From the early days of their founding in Montreal in the mid-1840s, the sisters have faced financial challenges and hardships. A letter in our archives from Mother Joseph in her early years in the Pacific Northwest expressed her deep concern to be able to feed the elderly the following day. In 1861, the first mental health care facility in the Washington Territory opened under the care of Mother Joseph. In January 1862, the Territorial Legislature authorized paying the sisters to care for the mentally ill. A few years later, the sisters were underbid and lost their contract. At the time, Mother Joseph wrote, “We were greatly saddened to deliver to our competitors these poor beings.” Concern for the needy, bearing witness to their care, and dealing with financial constraints is part of our history, our present, and I dare say our future.

Transformation: Part of the journey: In the past week, The Olympian has reported the restructuring scheduled for this month in the Southwest Washington Service Area – Providence St. Peter Hospital (PSPH), Providence Centralia Hospital (PCH) and Providence Physician Network (PPN). This change compels us to say farewell to three outstanding leaders, Jim Leonard and Lori Van Zanten at Providence St. Peter Hospital. and Ken Boucher at Providence Centralia Hospital. While this change brings an opportunity for the service area, this is a very sad time for all of us at PSPH, PCH, PPN who are grieving the loss of friends and colleagues.

All three leaders have provided years of service and dedication to the Providence Mission. All have accomplishments in their areas of expertise. Personally, I have worked most closely with Jim Leonard as chief executive of PSPH and salute him as one of the finest leaders that I have been privileged to work with in my almost 25 years in health care.

Change for most of us is painful and difficult. Time and history will record this passing, and it will be judged in light of the awkward and challenging health care climate we have in the 21st century.

Providence and the future: In spite of our losses and the changes, Providence has never been an organization that sits quietly at the sidelines. In the words of President Obama, Providence strives in “shaping our future.” Just as the early sisters adapted to shifting environments to continue serving our communities, Providence Health and Services is proactive with federal and state leaders on important legislation. Clinically, we are implementing best practices for increased quality, creating efficiencies for better stewardship, increasing effectiveness for a better work outcomes, maintaining financial sustainability and working to serve our communities in the most effect ways for many years to come.

May your thoughts and prayers be with us as we move forward honoring our history, our commitment and our Mission.

Connie Walker, MA, BCC, is a certified Catholic chaplain and director, Mission and Spiritual Care Services at Providence St. Peter Hospital. She can be reached at connie.walker@providence.org.

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