Innovation always has been a key element of the Catholic health ministry in the United States. The organizations that founded Catholic systems began by determining community needs and developing innovative solutions. Today's challenges call us to build on that history of transformative change.

At Ascension Health, we set a 2020 Vision of a transformed health care system in which we promise: Health care that works, health care that is safe, and health care that leaves no one behind, for life. Our focus has been on improving the experience of those we serve while seeking to create new holistic, sustainable models; improving clinical quality and safety; and working for 100 percent access and 100 percent coverage. We have had remarkable success through numerous incremental innovations.

However, as the Rev. William G. Pollard said, "The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow." Truly transformational innovations are those that go beyond incremental improvements; they are game changers.

So over the past year, we engaged more than 1,000 leaders from across our system to clarify the path toward realizing our vision through our strategic direction. That vision commits Ascension Health to ensure service that not only is committed to the health and well-being of communities, but also responds to the needs of individuals throughout the life cycle.

Ascension Health believes those we serve are increasingly seeking and deserve a substantive change in the resources that support their health and well-being. Even with today's political and economic uncertainty and the unknown implications for our nation's health care delivery system, our religious sponsors, board members, leaders, associates and physicians have expressed a strong sense of urgency about the bold, transformative steps we will take together over the next decade.

These groups have expressed consistent support for putting the person at the center of all we do. For Ascension Health, this means a radical departure from a focus on providers delivering episodic medical services to an emphasis on developing trust-based relationships with people. This shift transcends an individual health care encounter and promotes spiritually centered, holistic approaches to people's broader health and well-being needs throughout their lifetimes.

Our leaders defined a set of common capabilities that our health ministries across the country will require, regardless of what that future may hold, to deliver on our strategic direction and person-centered approach. These include the ability to provide high-quality, reliable care across the continuum; ensure a sustainable cost structure; manage health outcomes and costs for defined populations; set the pace for community health-improvement efforts; engage and inspire physicians, other caregivers and associates; and share information and best practices across our national health ministry.

Besides these common abilities, our health ministries will need to develop other capabilities to meet the needs of individuals in their own communities and unique markets. Developing these abilities, which we call contingent capabilities, will enable all our health ministries to learn from and build on the efforts of each other when they need a new strength in the future.

The timely development of these capabilities will require Ascension Health to unleash the creativity of our associates and to stimulate innovation, development and learning across our system. This will accelerate our efforts to improve clinical quality and continue the legacy of our sponsors, ensuring that innovation remains an integral part of our national health ministry.

Anthony R. Tersigni is president and CEO of Ascension Health in St. Louis.

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