Forward: In the Healthy Company of Tradition

Rob Greenfield
Issue 5, November 2001

In June 2001, Cardinal Thomas Williams officially launched a new Catholic entity, Aotearoa New Zealand Catholic Healthcare Limited. The formation of the company brought together sixteen Catholic congregations and entities that have a common interest in health care from a Catholic perspective. For a number of the founders it was the culmination of a long journey.

In our world of constant change, it is perhaps, the Health sector that is most affected by the many and turbulent currents that exist. In Aotearoa New Zealand the drivers of change in health include the myriad of different political agendas, the escalating needs in health and care, the high expectations of people, the increasing complexity of health issues and in many instances, the extraordinary cost of health care.

The Catholic presence in health care has been constant and considerable. Congregations, Dioceses and other church organisations have all been heavily involved in an enormously wide range of health and care related activities. The Catholic health family has also been subject to the very same currents described above. For example, in the last three months, even the basic charitable foundation that underlies the Catholic health involvement has been under threat as the government ponders the possibility of rewriting history via the medium of its Tax and Charities discussion paper.

There also have been considerable changes in the providers of Catholic health care. Numbers in those religious orders that provide health care have diminished but the importance of their work has not and a range of new governance structures have sprung up to give a voice for their futures.

In the 1980s a number of people, mainly women religious, saw the changes that were occurring. Looking overseas they saw the importance of the role of 'umbrella' groups such as the Catholic Health Association of the United States and Catholic Healthcare, Australia.

In particular, they were conscious that in trying to retain the individual missions and callings of the many congregations involved in health care, it was essential to have an over arching entity to provide strength in numbers, spirit and in purpose. While what was happening overseas provided a guide, it was important, they believed, to have a New Zealand approach.

Early attempts to get such an organisation formed were not totally successful but the flame flickered rather than extinguished. For the new millennium, the support was there, and the inaugural shareholders include all the Dioceses and those religious orders that are significant health care providers.

Those shareholders were conscious of the need to ensure that there was a selection of a board of directors based on competence and not just mere representation .An excellent range of skills and abilities have been brought together. The foundation board consists of:

  • Sister Catherine Hannan who is the chairperson. Catherine is a former congregational leader of the Sisters of Compassion and is also the chair of Caritas.
  • Cardinal Thomas Williams who, in addition to being a shareholder as the Archbishop of Wellington, is also an important liaison with the other members of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference.
  • Sister Rita Vessey who is currently the coordinator of the Te Ngakau Wairoa Spirituality Centre and is a former administrator of Mercy Hospital and Health Services, Auckland.
  • Kim von Lanthen, the current Chief Analyst for the Treasury and a former manager for Pricewaterhouse. Kim serves on the boards of a number of Wellington based Catholic entities.
  • Monty Arnott, the general manager of Sisters of Compassion Limited who has a background in governance, risk management and the health and welfare sectors.
  • Catherine Roughan, Chief Executive of St John of God Health and Disability Services, Christchurch. A health professional, Catherine is a former principal nurse and nursing tutor.
  • Roy Cowley who is a consultant to and a former national chairman of the national board of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. Roy serves on the boards of a number of Little Company of Mary entities.
  • Anne Corry, the Director for Mission of the Mercy Hospital, Auckland and a former senior teacher and youth ministry member in both Australia and New Zealand.

As a priority, the board addressed the issue of an executive officer and appointed the writer on a one year, two days per week basis. A former partner in a legal practice the writer was, for a decade, the general manager, corporate of Mitsubishi Motors NZ. He was also the inaugural chair of the HFA section .51 Committees and chairperson of the National Society on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

An equal priority of the board has been to focus on the vision, mission and values of the company. Good governance is all about good stewardship and consultation with shareholders. Accordingly, the board having undertaken the initial consideration and deliberation is now currently commencing the consultation stage. The vision, mission and beyond are therefore works in progress but there are clear value principles that represent the future for Catholic Healthcare.

These include :

  • Fostering the healing mission of Jesus in the Catholic tradition and in the spirit of prophetic Congregational founders.
  • Working collaboratively with, mutually supporting and providing a forum for Catholic health carers.
  • Identifying and enabling the health care needs of, in particular, the vulnerable and marginalised to be met in changing times.
  • Striving for, supporting, promoting and enabling health care that values the intrinsic sacredness of human life.

The consequent action plans are also at the consultative stage but in the next twelve months it is highly likely that Catholic Healthcare will be active as:

  • An advocate
  • A coordinator
  • A facilitator

and a focal point for communication, information and any resource sharing that may be requested by the shareholders.

The broad outline is in place; the actual detail is being formulated.

The company has set up an office in the Mercy Centre, Wellington. Not only is this appropriately close to the Catholic Centre, Parliament, and the key Ministries, it also means we share a floor, the kitchen and the coffee plunger with The Nathaniel Centre. Catholic Healthcare will as stated, work collaboratively and the relationship with The Nathaniel Centre is very important. We share in common the values of the Catholic perspective and we both recognise that our future paths run in the same direction.

The Catholic tradition in health and care has been impressive and strong. Aotearoa New Zealand Catholic Healthcare Limited is determined that this tradition continues. We are as an entity, a corporation (albeit a charitable one) and our methods will be business like but we are empowered by values principles and traditions that go back two thousand years.


Rob Greenfield is Executive Officer of Aotearoa New Zealand Catholic Healthcare Limited