Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 8, 1999
Catholic health care still alive
O'Neill moves on now that guarantees protect Church's ministry
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
As the executive director of Catholic Health Association of Alberta and Affiliates for the past decade, Kathy O'Neill's greatest challenge has also been her greatest success.
"I'd say the agreement we made with the government has been the highlight of my time here," said O'Neill who resigned from her position Oct. 31.
The agreement that O'Neill speaks of has helped to keep faith-based health care alive in the province.
In 1992 when health care reforms began taking control from the local health boards and lumping them together under one regional authority umbrella, the CHAAA knew it had to put up a fight or accept its demise.
Recognizing that having a regional authority would diminish how faith-based health care facilities were run, the organization began lobbying to maintain their identity.
"We saw that if we didn't come together, there would be little fragments of each one of us trying to fight this," O'Neill said. "We needed to keep our boards, control our staff, preserve our organization."
The association encouraged former minister of health Shirley McClellan, to permit faith-based facilities to operate as such, rather than being lumped into the general health care pool.
In 1994, the master agreement was approved to provide a framework for relationships between faith-based health care facilities and regional health authorities. Faith-based health care still exists because of it, said O'Neill.
"Some of the bureaucrats didn't want it. They wanted everything under one umbrella. I guess this complicated their lives more. They liked uniformity."
O'Neill hesitates to compare the faith and non-faith based health care differences to those of the separate and public school systems, but admits that in essence, the two systems are similar.
As the Catholic schools see God as the teacher, CHAAA sees him as the healer.
O'Neill said, like Catholic education, the future of faith-based health care is not completely guaranteed.
"There are always people out there challenging this," O'Neill said. "What we really need to do is mobilize public support. There are a lot of people who need to know the importance of the association.
"All of us are called to this healing ministry of Christ. We can be the voice for those who are voiceless."
In her time with CHAAA, O'Neill has also been active in amending the equity agreement, which dates back to 1969. The agreement ensures that the religious women who helped build the health care system in the province are properly compensated by the government if transfers of ownership should take place.
The CHAAA was established in 1943, but the executive director position was only created in 1989. The role called for someone who could move the organization into the future and act as a cohesive agent for members who were spread across the province.
Its membership includes more than 30 Catholic and other faith-based health facilities.
Before coming to CHAAA, O'Neill was an intensive care nurse. At 55, she's not ready to completely retire, but will probably take the remainder of the year off to travel and catch up on her leisure reading.
"It's been 10 years for me here," O'Neill said. "I think it's time to renew myself . . . to get some rest and relaxation.
"The association needs a fresh face here."
Her replacement has not yet been named.