Institutional Relationships and Faith Based Health Care

Thursday night (September 10th) I drove home from a very engaging and fruitful Cabinet Retreat. This morning (September 11th) I left early to attend a two day Texas Health Resources (THR) Leadership Conference focusing on the critical theme of “Exploring the Next Frontier in Heath Care Leadership.” For me this is a time of deep learning. It is important to hold together the Church’s historic relationship with healthcare (originally through the Harris Methodist Hospital System and since the merger) through THR. As a part of the recent restructuring, I now serve on the Board of Texas Health Resources by virtue of the office of Resident Bishop of the Central Texas Conference.

It is significant that THR is very serious about being a “faith based” hospital system. Recently Dr. Eric Smith was promoted from Senior Chaplain to Vice-President of Spirituality and Faith Integration (system wide). The “faith” connection matters greatly to THR. System values reflect the deep Methodist roots (on the Harris Fort Worth side) and the Presbyterian roots (on the Dallas Presbyterian side). Like American society as a whole and the church in particular, THR is feeling its way forward in a post-Christendom environment.

At our June meeting of the Central Texas Annual Conference perhaps the biggest debate revolved around health insurance for clergy. As I listen and learn at this THR Leadership Retreat, I cannot help but note the reality we are facing society wide. We are in a period of great change! This mirrors my work on the United Methodist Publishing House Board – the publishing industry is undergoing a revolution (think Amazon and self-publishing). Who would have thought just 10 years ago that a person could receive health care at Wal-Mart and CVS! I cannot help but add the obvious: the church is going through similar great disruptive change in our post-Christendom environment. Like all the rest of my colleague bishops and many lay leaders and senior clergy, we are wrestling with just what institutional relationships look like and what they ought to look like.

In our Annual Conference debate, a hidden sub-text is the move to a consumer driven health care system. A crude illustration will hopefully illuminate. When I was a child, whatever the doctor (or nurse) said was (pardon the pun) gospel. Today, it is both expected and demanded that the intelligent and responsible patient (and/or family caretaker) will both question and engage in meaningful dialogue about their healthcare. In a good way the Conference debate illuminated that both clergy and laity must be individually responsible for healthcare. The days of being “taken care of” are over. We must be participants in the health and healing process.

From our Christian (and faith based) system we seek not only to provide an environment that is safe, healing and kind but one that aligns the wider system to achieve high performance for everyone! By its very nature this is an incredibly complex task. While THR is geographically focused (the north Texas area), the drive to full integration of healthcare services (including insurance) is a part of the future both locally and nationally. Three elements will continue to dominate the faith based discussion – 1) access, 2) care, and 3) cost.

Both as Christians and as a larger society, we need to get beyond venting about what we don’t like to figuring out solutions that benefit all. I am impressed by THR’s dedicated work in this direction. Christ’s teaching from Matthew 25 echoes in the background … “in as much as you did it unto the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

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