Ascension CEO: What healthcare can learn from the Pope's commitment to the poor

Today, Pope Francis is delivering an address to Congress. Afterward, he plans to meet with some of our nation's homeless, a visit that underscores his call for changes to the systems and structures that prevent the impoverished from fulfilling basic needs.

Anthony Tersigni, EdD, president and CEO of Clayton, Mo.-based Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world's largest Catholic health system, wrote in a blog post in The Hill that the Pope's dedication to uplifting the poor reflects the mission of the Catholic Church, Ascension and all healthcare organizations that work on a daily basis to provide care and aid those who are struggling.

"The Pope is challenging us to change how we think about health and wellness. He is calling on us to provide all people with access to healthcare, whether they are sick or well, old or young — whether or not they can afford to pay," Dr. Tersigni wrote.

He notes that the U.S. healthcare system "is not fully optimized," and instead is a "complicated and fragmented system focused more on financing than care, coverage and wellness." He likens Medicare for seniors to Canada's healthcare system, where virtually all citizens receive coverage through the government. He links healthcare for Native Americans or military veterans to the Nation Health Service in Great Britain, where the government owns all hospitals and employs all physicians and patients never receive a hospital bill.

"And if you're uninsured, you're actually in a model that you'll see in the poorest parts of the world, where if you don't have money and access to care you're either going to stay sick, injured or die, unless you are lucky enough to avail yourself of charity care," Dr. Tersigni wrote.

Dr. Tersigni said the reality of our "fragmented and inefficient" system is cause for our society to redesign the healthcare system to better meet the needs of all people, regardless of their age, financial or employment status. The Pope's visit to the U.S. and his service to the poor should challenge and inspire those in the healthcare industry to commit to caring for those in need.  

"Let's incentivize and proactively encourage preventative care, quality primary care and effective end-of-life care. Only then can we truly provide compassionate, personalized care for all," Dr. Tersigni wrote.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article said Anthony Tersigni is the president and CEO of Ascension Health, based in Edmundson, Mo. Dr. Tersigni is the president and CEO of Clayton, Mo.-based Ascension, of which Ascension Health is a subsidiary. 

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