The Mercy Way

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-By Claire Suttles

In the early nineteenth century, the Sisters of Mercy devoted their lives to helping others. Mercy Health is their continuing legacy. The Catholic community benefit organisation remains dedicated to providing the highest quality care to all. “We like to call it the Mercy Way,” says John Fogarty, Executive Director of Hospitals, Aged Care and Community Services. The Sisters have always been committed to “service delivery and caring for people who are most disadvantaged in the community,” he explains. “So the focus of our healthcare is very much on meeting the needs of people who are vulnerable.” Mercy Health strives to accomplish this mission in a number of ways. The group runs public hospitals on behalf of the state and provides community and aged care services, “particularly in regional areas where there might not be great access to aged care services.” Specific services include mental health programs, specialist women’s healthcare, early parenting support, palliative care, and health worker training and development. Currently, Mercy Health provides care for nearly half a million people each year across Victoria, southern New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

Mercy Health traces its origins back to Catherine McAuley, an Irish nun who dedicated her life to caring for the poor and founded the Order of the Sisters of Mercy in 1823. The Order established its first Australian hospital, St Benedict’s, in Malvern in 1920, as a response to the devastating 1918 influenza pandemic. St Benedict’s success led the Sisters to found Mercy Hospital in East Melbourne fourteen years later. The Sisters’ mission had always focused on assisting women in need, and the group had a long-term goal of establishing an institution solely for women and infants. This dream was realised in 1971 with the opening of the public Mercy Maternity Hospital, later renamed Mercy Hospital for Women. Werribee Mercy Hospital, a public hospital serving the south western suburbs of Melbourne, was established in 1994. The group began offering mental health and aged care in the mid-nineties and, in 1996, formed Mercy Health and Aged Care. In 2008, Mercy Health Training Institute was formed to teach and promote compassionate, effective healthcare. The organisation adopted the name Mercy Health in the same year to illustrate the full range of health services that it had come to offer. Mercy Health remains a private organisation, owned entirely by the Melbourne Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, and governed by the Mercy Health Board.

Mercy Health operates under a specific mission. As stated on the company website, its underlying goal is “To follow Jesus Christ in His mission of mercy through the delivery of health, aged care and community services.” Furthermore, “We believe in the sacredness and dignity of each person at every stage of life. We are committed to providing compassionate care to all people.” Mr Fogarty reports that the organisation “Works very hard on bringing that mission and our vision and our values into all that we do… If you enter a Mercy Health care facility it would be very clear to you as you walk in that these values… are very important and they are very much in everything that we do.” Of course, the organisation must be mindful of the “need to be viable and sustainable [and] works very hard at those issues,” but only while remaining “true to the ethos of the faith base and of the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy.”

Mr Fogarty explains that Mercy Health is faith based, but inclusive to all. “We are a ministry of the Catholic Church but we provide services to all who need our care no matter what their faith background is, or if they have no faith background at all. [It’s the] same with our staff. We welcome staff from all backgrounds. We have a real focus on being a culturally diverse organisation.” The group also actively works to maintain a staff that is professionally diverse and representative of all age groups.

Mercy Health makes it a point to provide a caring, understanding workplace for its employees. “We try and give people a lot of flexibility around how they work,” Mr Fogarty explains. “So, if they are working mothers, or single parents, or if they are… headed toward retirement, we try to build the workplace to be as flexible as we can so that they can be part of our team and remain part of our team. And, we’ve had a lot of success in being recognised nationally in regards to those initiatives.” Mercy Health also encourages employees to be actively involved in the development of new services and policies. Mr Fogarty reports that the organisation provides career options, training, and development opportunities “so that the staff remains highly satisfied and highly committed to our organisation.”

Mercy health has had “a steady growth path” since its foundation. The Board’s present focus is on expanding aged care and home and community services, while maintaining high standards of care at existing facilities. Mercy Health currently operates around 1200 licensed aged care beds and a range of home and community care services in Victoria and southern New South Wales. Some of the organisation’s goals include raising the number of aged care beds to 2000, and doubling the size of home and community care services over the next five to ten years. “The population in Australia is aging rapidly,” Mr Fogarty explains, “and there is going to be a great need for these types of services and facilities.” Mercy Health would also like to integrate home and community care services into its aged care facilities. Improved coordination between these two different service areas would enable patients to stay home and receive care as long as possible. Furthermore, with patients already linked into a Mercy Health aged care facility, the transition to residential care would be smoother when care does need to be increased. The organisation is also reviewing and refining its processes and policies to ensure the same high standard of care across all facilities and services. Implementing a consistent and contemporary quality management system is important in order to ensure that “residents have a really good experience every day,” Mr Fogarty explains. “Our facility becomes their home,” and the team wants residents to “feel like they would if they were still in their own home.”

Mercy Health is also committed to being a leader in research. The organisation is “continuously researching and developing so that our care improves,” Mr Fogarty reports. The group currently collaborates with a number of universities to further its research, and plans to expand research capabilities even further. “That’s going to be a big part of what we do into the future,” Mr Fogarty says. As its capabilities expand, the team’s research focus will remain on “delivering better outcomes for the people who seek our services.” Mercy Health also recently appointed a fully endowed Chair of Maternal and Fetal medicine. “That’s a first for Australia as far as we understand,” Mr Fogarty reports. The group also boasts a Chair of Aged Care which Mr Fogarty describes as “one of the first” in Australia as well as other academic Chairs in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Midwifery and Neonatal Nursing. Funding for some of these positions has been provided by the Mercy Health Foundation, philanthropic gifts, and Catholic universities.

Mercy Health has a longstanding reputation for quality care in the communities it serves. However, the team still does “quite a bit of work in the marketing space, particularly in aged care.” Mercy Health wants to ensure that the public is aware of available services and that the organisation attracts highly skilled potential employees. Strategies include hosting community-open-days at its aged care facilities and recruiting new talent at employment expos.

Mr Fogarty sees the demand for healthcare assistance, both in hospitals and in aged care, as “ever increasing,” and he believes that one of Mercy Health’s greatest challenges in the near future will be in meeting this demand. “The funding envelope available for provision of services is finite. Any healthcare provider needs to work diligently in ensuring that they manage their cost profile according to their funding while [still] delivering a high quality of care.” He says that upcoming government decisions regarding new healthcare funding arrangements are critical to the future of the industry. “Once we know how the government goes it will give us clarity around our future strategies,” Mr Fogarty explains. In spite of the challenges, he remains optimistic about the state of the industry. “I think that Australia is very blessed with the health care system that we do have,” he says. “And certainly most people can get good and ready access to… healthcare.”

The Mercy Way has touched countless lives since Sister Catherine McAuley first provided care to the disadvantaged. And, almost two centuries later, Mercy Health remains dedicated to her original vision. “We are always looking at ways in which we can build our mission to further reach out to people who are in need,” Mr Fogarty explains. Due to this commitment, “There is a lot of trust placed in our brand,” and keeping that trust drives the organisation forward. “[It] creates an even greater responsibility on us to deliver the highest possible standard of care.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 9:21 AM AEDT