The Catholic Health Care Ministry
by Kathryn Grafsgaard
Associate Director/Health Care Advocate
January 2006

The history of Catholic health care in North Dakota is rich and filled inspiring stories about those who came before us to serve the health care needs of the state's native people and early settlers. The excellent tradition of caring and compassionate service continues in the state's 30 health care facilities; 12 hospitals, 18 long term and specialty care facilities that are supported by 8 religious congregations and organizations.

Large and small, the facilities continue their dedication to Jesus' mission of love and healing while dealing with the complex social, cultural, moral and financial issues of the 21st century. Their mission, according to Catholic social teaching and values, calls those in Catholic health care to serve as advocates for all, particularly the poor and other vulnerable populations.

The social responsibility of the Catholic health care ministry is founded in several principles, beginning with the commitment to promote and defend human life and dignity. An individual's basic right to life entails a right to the proper development of life through adequate health care.

The social responsibility continues with the biblical mandate to care for the poor, expressed as continual efforts to serve those in need including the uninsured and the underinsured. Catholic health care ministry also seeks to contribute to the common good while protecting fundamental rights. The facilities in North Dakota work toward a just and equitable health care system in which the basic care needs of individuals and the community as a whole are considered. Finally, the work reflects the teaching authority of the Church by providing and permitting only medical procedures that are morally acceptable. A comprehensive document, the "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services", guides all work.

Ensuring adequate financial resources, meeting the mission, and maintaining Catholic identity are foremost on the minds of the committed men and women religious, lay executives and health care staff in North Dakota. A multitude of challenges present themselves continually since health care is undergoing extraordinary change in clinical practice due to technological advances. As the health care system itself is challenged by institutional and social factors, the Catholic facilities strive to meet the complex and ongoing needs of communities across the state.

Meeting the needs of an increasing elderly population served in the primarily rural areas of North Dakota is a big challenge for the facilities, calling them to be firm in their commitment to providing access. Concerns about providing local care, so that families and friends can be close at hand, prompt religious and lay health care leaders to find innovative and creative ways to serve. Adequate funding and financial pressures loom continually around the efforts to continue their quality care.

The story of Catholic health care ministry in North Dakota is fascinating. All Catholics should engage in this ministry through their support and understanding, and by recognizing that our Savior's healing mission touches people at the deepest levels of their existence through physical, mental and spiritual healing. We remain grateful for the work of those who established the Catholic health care presence in North Dakota, and for how the sponsors, facilities and staff continue to touch and serve.