That means making sure that Mercy remains true to the standards of Catholic health care, and not focusing on just the financial bottom line.
It’s been 111 years since the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine established Mercy Hospital—Canton’s first and only Catholic hospital—in the former home of President William McKinley, offering care to all members of the community, rich and poor alike, regardless of religious faith or nationality.
While much about health care has changed and evolved, Mercy Medical Center, part of the Sisters of Charity Health System, continues to uphold Christ’s healing ministry in its mission to provide quality, compassionate, accessible and affordable care for the whole person.
A member of Mercy’s executive team, Sister Carolyn Capuano, HM, vice president of Mission and Ministry Services, is responsible for pastoral care, ethics, mission outreach, immigrant health outreach, and international outreach. She shares what it means to be a Catholic hospital, how the mission, values and the Catholic identity of the hospital and health care system are diligently followed and preserved, and ways that collaboration has enabled Mercy to expand its healing presence in the community.
An inclusive, welcoming presence is the hallmark of Mercy’s Catholic health care legacy. “People have a sense of security that they can turn to us in times of need and we do our best to be there for them,” Sister Carolyn said. “We are Mercy. We’re here for everyone.”
‘The challenge and beauty’ of living Mercy’s Catholic identity
“At the root of everything is the Gospel and Scriptures,” Sister Carolyn said. “We view our role at Mercy as a ministry of the church.”
As part of Mercy’s orientation, Sister Carolyn meets with all new employees to discuss how Catholic health care was developed and to stress the importance of not only knowing, but living Mercy’s mission. “To work here, employees must agree to follow the example of Jesus,” she said, adding that this includes non-Christians and people who don’t identify with a religion. “Even those who aren’t Christian can look at Jesus as a historical figure who was inclusive, welcoming, healing and was a teacher. There are many examples of Jesus doing these things, and we ask people who are part of our Mercy family to live this.”
In accordance with its values and mission, Mercy doesn’t turn anyone away who comes to the hospital for medically necessary reasons. “That’s the challenge and beauty of it,” Sister Carolyn said. “We work to ensure that we have the resources to help those who are unable to pay. Our financial counselors and Development Foundation are skilled at finding grants and other financial resources.” She said it’s a common misconception that Catholic hospitals only serve the poor, and is quick to point out that Mercy accepts all insurances and “our standards are second to none.”
Mercy, like all Catholic-sponsored health care systems, takes moral guidance from the Ethical and Religious Directives (ERD), developed by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. “These ethics are ingrained and take into consideration our history and our Catholic traditions,” Sister Carolyn said.
Checks, such as a mission analysis, are in place to ensure that the hospital’s mission is being followed. “At the opening and closing of Mercy projects, the key stakeholders meet for the analysis,” Sister Carolyn said. “It calls us to take a step back and make sure the decisions being made are not purely business decisions, and that we’re taking into account the needs of the people we serve.”
Reaching beyond clinical to humanity
“I tell new employees, that hospitals are places that hold every human emotion possible,” Sister Carolyn said. “You never know what someone is coming in with, so be prepared to welcome everyone.”
That means making sure that Mercy remains true to the standards of Catholic health care, and not focusing on just the financial bottom line. “A lot of creative thinking is required, and our people rise to the occasion. They know the right thing to do, and find ways to make it work.”
She recalls an employee coming to her for advice about a homeless man being treated at Mercy. “There was concern that he couldn’t go back on streets. They had found a family member to take him in but that person’s family was also poor. Working together, we helped the family get food assistance so they could welcome the man into their home without it being a financial burden.”
Sister Carolyn said that the “extra expression of care” is evident daily throughout Mercy, going beyond what is expected. “It’s rare for visitors to pass an employee in the hall without being greeted. Often, employees will go out of their way to help visitors proceed in the right direction. I’ve heard from physicians that there’s an extra sense of friendliness and peace at Mercy.”
It’s not only about helping the stranger. “I always say that we’re here for everyone, and that includes our employees.” Sister Carolyn oversees the Spirit of Mercy Fund which provides grants to employees who are in financial need due to crisis such as illness, family illness, a contentious divorce or a disaster. The fund was started by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine and is sustained by employee contributions. “It’s beautiful to see employees help each other,” Sister Carolyn said. “We call ourselves the Mercy Family and we do step up for each other as well as for the community at large.”
Responding to the needs of the community
In keeping with the Catholic church’s “preferential option to the poor” (prioritizing care for the most vulnerable members of our society), Mercy actively works toward health equity to ensure that all people have full and equal access to opportunities that enable them to lead healthy lives.
“We go the extra steps to make sure the poor and uninsured and underserved get the care they need. And that means more than providing the financial backing.” Sister Carolyn said that she often hears feedback from the community, “When Mercy says they’re going to do something, they do it with boots on the ground.”
Working with the Diocese, the City of Canton and community foundations, Mercy helped bring primary and dental care to 18,000 people who lived in a northeast quadrant of the city with not a single doctor or dentist. “It was a case where we had a neighborhood of working poor who had trouble scheduling time off to go to Belden Village to see a medical professional,” Sister Carolyn said. “The biggest issue they were facing was lack of accessibility. As a result, they were turning to the emergency room.” The grounds of St. Paul Church, a neighborhood church that closed due to merging with another parish, became the new home to Mercy Primary Care at St. Paul Square. The facility, opened in 2012, offers family medicine, dental care, and behavioral health services, as well as health education and other programs.
Sister Carolyn said that Mercy is currently working on another project with the City of Canton, this time, to bring primary and dental care to a community in southeast Canton. “It’s a multi-faceted collaborative at the Southeast Community Center. We’re pulling our resources together to serve the community.”
Deep-rooted principles ensure the future of Catholic health care
In the days when sisters wearing traditional habits served as hospital administrators and nurses, Mercy’s Catholic identity was visible and obvious. Nationwide, women religious ran 98 percent of Catholic hospitals 50 years ago, but the number of hospitals today that are led by religious CEOs can be counted on one hand.
Despite the declining number of women religious, Sister Carolyn is encouraged about the future of Catholic health care, where 1 in 6 U.S. patients receive care in a Catholic hospital.
She sees the role of sisters in Catholic health care today as ensuring that hospitals remain true to the founders’ principles and that the Catholic identity remains intact. “We must make sure that the values of women religious are planted deeply, and that the traditions will continue as lay leaders take over. We have always worked with others so this is an expansion of that.”