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By Tracy Carlson
January 12, 2021, Atlanta, Georgia – Two of the nation’s leading health organizations are responding to the dual pandemic of COVID-19 and racial injustice with a 10-year, $100 million partnership to develop and train more Black physicians, helping address the underlying causes of health disparities.
Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM), a historically Black medical school and one of America’s leading educators of primary care physicians, and CommonSpirit Health, one of the largest U.S. health systems with locations in 21 states from coast to coast, are creating a joint undergraduate and graduate medical education program to educate and train the next generation of culturally competent health clinicians and researchers.
A nonprofit, Catholic health system, CommonSpirit was created in February 2019 through the alignment of Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health. The system includes St. Rose Dominican Hospitals in Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada, and Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, California – both founded by the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
“As legacy sponsors of Dignity Health and now, as a Participating Congregation with CommonSpirit, we are so proud of CommonSpirit’s partnership with Morehouse,” the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters wrote in a letter to CommonSpirit Health CEO Lloyd Dean. “This initiative promises to have a major impact on positively addressing the critical underlying causes of racial health disparities. Given our growing resolve as Adrian Dominican Sisters to address racial inequities and white privilege, we are grateful to you and CommonSpirit for making this long-term commitment to lay a foundation for patients to have more access to Black clinicians, physicians, and health care providers across the nation.”
Morehouse School of Medicine President and Dean Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, explained that “of the 21,863 students entering medical school in 2019, only 1,626 were Black – and only 619 were Black males. This statistic is alarming for many reasons, not the least of which is the impact on patient care. Studies show that Black patients have better outcomes when treated by Black doctors.”
MSM and CommonSpirit are uniquely positioned to impact health equity through education and training opportunities and improved access and care delivery. Of the 155 accredited medical schools in the United States, MSM and the other three historically Black medical schools produce the majority of the nation’s Black physicians.
As one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the nation, CommonSpirit serves some of the most diverse communities in the country and cares for more Medicaid patients than any other health system in the United States.
The partnership will help develop more Black and other minority physicians by ensuring that a minimum of 300 additional underrepresented providers complete their residency training annually and support a pipeline of students who will be recruited from communities that are historically short on healthcare providers.
MSM and CommonSpirit will establish five new regional medical school campuses and graduate medical education programs in at least 10 markets in partnership with CommonSpirit healthcare facilities, to be announced in spring 2021.
“We are laying the foundation for patients to have more access to Black clinicians and for Black medical students and graduates to gain community-based experience that they need to be successful in their work,” said Lloyd H. Dean, President and CEO of CommonSpirit. “Our initiative also will create a pathway for healthcare organizations across the nation to follow and share our learnings, a vital part of our work.”
The collaboration will extend to addressing cultural competency and developing research programs to impact illnesses that disproportionately affect minority and underserved communities.
“We’re immediately leveraging our partnership to address health inequities magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, as Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” Dean said. “Together, we will foster a culturally competent system of care that includes testing, care delivery, and vaccine allocation, directed at the most vulnerable populations to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in racial and ethnic communities.”
MSM and CommonSpirit will contribute $21 million in seed money in the first two years, with a goal of spearheading a 10-year, $100 million initiative that invites the support of individual donors, industry partners, and philanthropic organizations.
“This partnership is the perfect combination of two healthcare organizations that are devoted to the creation and advancement of heath equity in underserved communities,” Dr. Montgomery Rice said. “Now, more than ever, we believe society needs a unique partnership like ours that can help show the way to reducing health disparities in vulnerable communities, and, in turn, make all communities stronger.”
Promising their support and prayer for the success of the initiative, the General Council added that the partnership “aligns fully with the Mission and Vision of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. We are delighted, through our participation in CommonSpirit, to be a part of this extraordinary healing initiative.”
Members of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ General Council are Sisters Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress; Mary Margaret Pachucki, OP, Vicaress and General Councilor; Frances Nadolny, OP, Administrator and General Councilor; Patricia Harvat, OP, General Councilor; and Elise D. García, OP, General Councilor.
By Sister Corinne Florek, OP
November 10, 2020, St. Louis, Missouri – Does the photo above look familiar? For many Dominican Sisters, this was their home during their canonical novitiate year in St. Louis. The Collaborative Dominican Novitiate (CDN) moved to this location in 2001.
Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP (Adrian) and Cathy Arnold, OP (Peace) worked here for two years until it was decided to move the novitiate to Chicago. Moving out was one thing, but what to do with the house was another. Through a series of connections and collaboration, the former novitiate has become a home for women transitioning from jail or prison to new life in the community.
Sister Julie Schwab, OP (Sinsinawa) spent a few days at the CDN in the Fall of 2019 and, when she heard that the house would be sold, she gave Sister Cathy a list of organizations who needed more housing in St. Louis. “I was at the National Association of Recovery Residences (NARR) Conference and had been thinking how that house would lend itself to recovery housing, so I asked around to see who was looking for more space,” she said.
Sitting next to Sister Julie during the conference was Laura Toledo, Executive Director of the Center for Women in Transition, who told her that her agency was hoping to open a new home for women in the near future. The Center is a St. Louis-based nonprofit whose mission is to advocate for and assist women in the criminal justice system to support their successful transition to family and community.
Laura and her colleague, Barbara Baker, came to see the novitiate and immediately felt that the house would be a perfect fit. “The house has an aura of peace and comfort,” Laura said. “We fell instantly in love with the place.”
“I felt grateful to help make the connections in this process, and that the changes that the CDN made to the house in 2002 matched the needs of the women who will live there now,” Sister Cathy said. “I hope the women enjoy the house as much as we did.”
Sister Cathy made yet another connection: this time between Laura and Sister Corinne Florek, OP (Adrian), then Executive Director of the Religious Communities Impact Fund (RCIF), to request a low-interest loan for the purchase.
While she loved the idea of repurposing the novitiate to be used as a ministry for women, Sister Corinne said, she did not have enough funds at the time for the entire loan. She put Laura in contact with Sarah Smith, Director of the Mercy Partnership Fund in St. Louis.
“Sisters of Mercy were among the Center’s founders, so we were eager to collaborate with RCIF in supporting [the Center’s] work in providing housing opportunities for women leaving the criminal justice system,” Sarah said.
Laura secured a forgivable loan from the St. Louis Mental Health Board and, with the loans from the RCIF and the Mercy Partnership Fund, the transition became a reality in July. In September, the first residents moved into the Sharon House, a long-term residence for up to 24 women, named for Sister Sharon Schmitz, RSM.
“What going to Sharon House means to me is a chance to be independent again with a little structure, which for a recovering addict and alcoholic is very important,” said Beverly, one of the first residents. “The positive environment, neighborhood, sober living, and the sense of safety and security is so what I need and look forward to. For me, it is a wonderful, better way of life and support.”
For both Sister Corinne and Sarah, this is what impact investing is all about. Keeping assets in the community and affordable and helping the most vulnerable – not financial return – are the goals.
“Projects like this are what give me the energy to continue to do this work,” Sister Corinne said. “I hope others will consider how to use their investments to create hope and resilience for all in our community, especially those who have been excluded for so long.”
For the many Dominican Congregations whose women made their novitiate here, Sharon House is a wonderful new ministry that embodies the spirit of the Dominican tradition, “give to others the fruits of their contemplation.”
The Dominican Congregations of Adrian, Hope, Houston, Mission San Jose, San Rafael, and Tacoma are among the sponsors of RCIF.