Why mission integration belongs in the C-suite, per Trinity Health's newest executive

Corinne Francis is the new executive vice president and chief mission integration officer of Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity Health. Becker's recently connected with her, drawing upon her 22 years of experience in healthcare mission integration work to illuminate the role's purpose and pain points in an ever-changing industry. 

Question: Healthcare is facing so many headwinds, from financial challenges to staffing shortages. How do you ensure that your health system is keeping mission-centered during difficult times, amid difficult decisions? 

Corinne Francis: All of Catholic healthcare, not just Trinity Health, puts emphasis on discernment. We do a values-based discernment as one of our guiding principles in decision-making. Secondly, we are rooted in our mission and values, and so there isn't any situation that will arise — whether they are challenging or not challenging — that should take us away from focus on mission and values in our response to any challenges that the healthcare landscape brings to us. And that is the lens through which we look at how we respond to the challenges that we face on a daily basis. It keeps us grounded in our foundation as a Catholic healthcare ministry, that we are called to employ the best talent in fixing those problems, and we bring to those challenges the creativity that is informed by who we are as a Catholic faith-based ministry.

Q: You previously served as senior vice president of mission integration at San Francisco-based Dignity Health, prior to its merger with Catholic Health Initiatives, which created Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health. Then, you assumed the system mission integration position at CommonSpirit. 

In your experience, how do mission integration leaders play a role when choosing an aligned strategic partner? How can health systems retain their identity even as mergers alter their framework? 

CF: Mission integration is key to any alignment. Many organizations do perform what we call a cultural integration and a cultural alignment, with [another] organization. And it forms the basis of decisions that are made to move forward with a particular motive. So how do the two organizations align on value? Are they aligned on cultural integration of those values in the life of the organization, as well as the alignment on goals for the future in terms of the expectations of coming together as a larger system? And so a lot of the focus is how are we doing this, and  why are we doing this to serve the common good. It is not about just becoming a larger system, but how it enables us to better serve the needs of our communities and focus on the common good. 

Q: Gen Z employees in particular have expressed interest in working for companies that are aligned with their values. How do mission integration leaders play a role in the recruitment and retention of these workers? 

CF: Mission integration is generally, in most organizations I have been in, a part of the recruitment team that interviews potential candidates. For example, the organization that I came from, we've developed a fellowship program, and mission integration is integrated in the administration of the fellowship program. All of the employees here at Trinity go through orientation and at the beginning of the experiences with us they are introduced to the mission, values, vision, Catholic identity of the organization. They are clear on the kind of organization that they are joining. 

One of the requests that I know from Gen Z is that they seek integrity and authenticity. And so we focus on being people who practice mission and values with integrity and authenticity, so that when they become a part of us, it's really a promise fulfilled. Not that everyone is perfect — you're [not] going to find all of the values being practiced everyday at the same level by everyone — but a concerted effort is made in ministry formation, in mission education, in focus on the values throughout the careers of the employees who choose to be a part of our organization. We are constantly working to be innovative and creative about the initiatives that are offered, and to include those who are serving in the ministry in developing those initiatives, because their perspectives are great for helping the organization to grow, to remain faithful, and to remain an organization of integrity. 

Q: What does it mean to you to be working in a Catholic health ministry today? How do you continue to hold those values true to Trinity Health? 

CF: Working in a Catholic health ministry really is rooted in the commitment to the common good. As a social teaching of the Catholic Church, we are committed to justice. We are committed to equity. We are committed to excellence in healthcare, and we are committed to serving those in poverty. We are committed to those who are marginalized and to use the capabilities of the organization to assure that care is given and provided in an excellent way to everyone, and when we speak of the common good, we think about how we can do the most good for the most people given the resources that are available to us.

Q: What are the greatest challenges facing mission integration leaders in healthcare? 

CF: The greatest challenge is not just facing mission integration leaders, it is facing all leaders in Catholic health. It is the rapid changing of payments, alignments and payment systems. It is the government response expectations, policies around healthcare. It is responding with limited resources to the fast-growing needs of those we serve in our community.

Q: Given these challenges, how would you define success in your first year at Trinity Health? 

CF: You know, there's a parable of five loaves and two fish. Through mission integration, through finance, through operations, through strategy, through colleague care, we can somehow replicate that miracle of five loaves and two fish to serve as many in our communities that we can with innovative and creative solutions to the challenges of service, and to use all of the gifts that we have been blessed with to bring [solutions] to the table as we face any of those challenges that come up. And they will come up in 2023, 2024, 2025. But we are not daunted. And I believe that we have the capabilities in terms of collaboration, in terms of partners, to do the best we can to serve the common good.

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