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(June 13, 2002, Gazette)

Thursday, May 30, 10 a.m.
Oration honouring Elizabeth Mary Davis

It has been said that three lies permeate today’s society: “Your cheque is in the mail,” “I love you as much today as when we first met,” and “I am from the government; I am here to help you.” But in truth, the candidate before you belies this last declaration, for she is from the government but she has helped.

Hospitals began in monasteries, providing shelter, food and spiritual salvation. During the Renaissance, a new ideology of health recognized the need to attend to the physical ailments of those seeking spiritual asylum. In the 1500s the hospital Santa Maria Nuova in Florence ministered to labourers and pilgrims bound for Rome. It was staffed by the sisters of the order and by a permanent cadre of physicians, barber-surgeons and apothecaries, who from a distillate of misery generated a new, educational role for hospitals that now cared for the spirit, the body and the mind.

Over the next 400 years, institutions were created with their own ideologies, traditions and methods of management, but today they must be aligned to achieve efficiency. Twentieth century hospitals were often fiercely independent, in fact competitive — an expensive luxury. Today’s financial exigencies require their consolidation and harmonization, inevitably resulting in alterations in the pattern of care; while their organization and finances are controlled by governments with decreasing budgets, searching for some feat of management to rationalize (if not to ration) the services offered.

Such pressures do not easily respect that humanitarianism traditional in hospital care, addressing also the emotional and spiritual aspects of illness. It is fortunate that when a dynamic high-school teacher from Fox Harbour showed her empathy, efficiency and vision in administering our own St. Clare’s hospital, she was appointed as the first CEO of the St. John’s Health Care Corporation. The burden of her mandate to implement the government’s urgent need to rationalize a disjointed, sometimes archaic system may have been made easier by her archaeological training.

It is ironic that one dedicated to an order known for its unquestioning provision of service was charged with the responsibility of determining which services might have to be withdrawn. A few things were in theory, easy — to recognize that the existence of two fully-staffed emergency departments a minute away from each other was indefensible, and that the medical management of disease is bound by non-denominational rules. But reorganization had to take place in the face of entrenched differences in religious affiliation, tradition and corporate culture. Aware that those that plan the fight will not fight the plan, Sister Elizabeth consulted and listened. Like Catherine Macauley, the founder of her order, she radiated a personal imperative — in her case that the changes were morally just steps on the path to achieving the most efficient and effective system. In your words, Mr. Chancellor, “Short term pain for long term gain”.

It was her personal credibility that allowed her to accomplish the esemplastic task of melding disparate moieties into a desperate unity. She introduced a cogent program system based upon the needs of patients rather than of planners, its leaders appointed for their managerial rather than their medical skills. Job losses were mainly through attrition, reduplication was minimized or abolished, and physicians were freed, not always without protest, from their administrative roles (at which they are usually rather ordinary) in order to concentrate upon the diagnosis and treatment of patients (at which they are usually rather good). Yet in this reorganizational kaleidoscope she never omitted the statements of mission, value and vision defining the goal and the road to its attainment.

When the lawyer asked; “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus told of the Samaritan who recognized the personal worth of the traveller beaten and robbed on the Jericho road, for he rescued and transported him and provided for his further care at the inn; and all for two pence — a sum covering triage, ambulance services, admission procedures, diagnosis, treatment, housing and extended care, but one no longer appropriate today, even after adjustment for inflation. The lawyer rightly identified his neighbor as he that had shown compassion.

Mr. Chancellor, global military spending has been estimated at one million dollars per minute. Five million dollars have been spent on preparation for war since I took my place here; how much for reparation for disease? However much, it is in comparison too little. The moneys allocated for health care must be wisely spent so that more people may have more of their needs supplied more adequately. I present to you the chief architect of our new health-care system, who has shown the willingness to consult, the courage to listen, the insights to discern the right course and the faith to follow it with compassion; to receive at your hand the degree of doctor of laws, (honoris causa), our neighbour Elizabeth Mary Davis, Sister of Mercy.

Dr. William Pryse-Phillips
University Orator