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Union Hosts HealthCare Mission Conference

Story and Photos by Celeste Ryan Blyden

Earlier this month, Columbia Union Conference president Dave Weigley invited administrators from the union’s two healthcare networks---Maryland-based Adventist HealthCare and Ohio-based Kettering Adventist HealthCare---to participate in a joint mission conference. Under the theme “Expressing the Adventist Mission in HealthCare,” the 15 hospital presidents and vice presidents in attendance heard six presentations from Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders and a leader from a sister healthcare network.

In her opening devotional, North American Division Health Ministries director Katia Reinert called the leaders to make mission their first priority. “My prayer is that mission will be the driving force in what we do,” she stated. “This means following Christ’s example, focusing on the community, partnering with others, taking hold of our health message and sharing principles of healthful living with the patients.”

She was followed by General Conference vice president Lowell Cooper who suggested the leaders would also do well to cultivate a culture of service. “Our interest in surplus must not supplant our interest in service. We must serve those least able to access it,” he posited.

Through a PowerPoint presentation punctuated by inspiring video testimonies, Womack Rucker, vice president of Corporate Relations for healthcare giant Adventist Health System (AHS), revealed their secret to success. “The central focus of our work is mission,” he declared. “It’s more than business.” Florida-based AHS is the 10th largest healthcare system in the United States (the largest religious, non-Catholic system) and runs hospitals in 12 states. They employ 55,000 workers, 8,500 physicians and 13,000 spiritual ambassadors who engage in numerous mission-focused programs and outreach initiatives.

Though smaller, the Columbia Union’s healthcare entities operate 12 hospitals with another set to open later this year and dozens of clinics and related facilities. They jointly employ 16,000 workers and 2,500 physicians and benefit from the service of more than 1,800 volunteers.



Ohio-based attorney Ted Ramirez, who has served on one of Kettering’s hospital boards for many years, ended the daylong meeting by saying: “Beyond structure, governance and finance, it comes down to you and what you do to align your work with Christ’s mission.”

In his closing remarks, Weigley, who chairs the boards of both entities, concurred. “Indeed we are part of a greater mission.”

Richard Haas, who heads Kettering’s Grandview Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio, agreed. “Today was a great reminder that together, in partnership with the church, we have the unique opportunity to improve the lives of the people in the communities we serve.”

That message also hit home for his colleague Jennifer Swenson, Kettering’s newest hospital president, who came from west-coast system Adventist Health to head Fort Hamilton Hospital in Hamilton, Ohio. “Emphasizing wellness, cultivating a culture of service and collaborating with local churches and communities are a few examples of ways we can impact individuals and transform lives,” she concluded.

Jason Coe, who in January took the helm of Adventist HealthCare’s Hackettstown Regional Medical Center in New Jersey, appreciated the shared learning experience. “It challenged our thinking on how to further our mission to follow Christ’s example by caring for humanity as an expression of our [faith].”