VANCOUVER (CCN) — A Vancouver woman who fought for Catholic health care and the values of faith-based institutions across the nation has received a prestigious national award.
Susan House has spent decades working to keep Canadian religious hospitals in the hands of their founding congregations, raising awareness of the need for spiritual care in hospitals, and discussing ethics and end-of-life issues across Canada and in the U.S.
For her many efforts, the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada (CHAC) has granted her the Lifetime Achievement Award for 2017.
“She is a real leader and has an ability to bring people together around issues and find solutions and help to get the issues addressed,” said CHAC president Michael Shea.
“Her leadership at the provincial level, her engagement at the national level, her international involvement, and her many years of dedicated service to Catholic health care just needed to be recognized.”
House told The B.C. Catholic she was surprised she was chosen to receive the national award.
“I’ve always seen the work that I’ve done in Catholic health care as a group effort. One person can’t take the credit for the good work that’s done.”
Msgr. Bernard Rossi, episcopal vicar for health care in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, said House has made a tremendous impact in the last 20 years.
“She made presentations to the government and to the senate on various health-care issues over the years and has been a strong advocate for the catholicity of our Catholic institutions.”
House was a key member of the Denominational Health Association, a non-profit created to negotiate an agreement with the B.C. government to keep faith-based health care institutions in the hands of the communities who founded them. The agreement was signed in 1995.
“The government guarantees certain autonomy: we have our own administration, our own CEOs, our own boards, and we are allowed to abide by our own principles of our faith-based communities,” said Rossi.
It was an important win for House. “We have freedom of religion in this country and there are people who believe that faith has a role to play in health care,” she said. “I honestly believe that 100 per cent and I always fought for that, no matter what faith you were.”
She was confident the agreement would not fail, since the Catholic Church has been in the health care business for hundreds of years.
House is also on the Society Board for Providence Residential and Community Care, was on the steering committee of the CHAC, defended spiritual care, promoted palliative care, and collaborated with professionals and governments across Canada and in parts of the U.S.
She remembers when the Fraser Health Authority cut a dozen full-time spiritual care jobs in 2009. “We worked really hard to make the health authority come around to seeing that they had been misguided in their thinking.” In response, the Minister of Health’s Spiritual Care Council developed recommendations for spiritual care in B.C. House was a member of that council.
“Looking after a person’s spirit is vital to caring for the whole person,” she said. “A lot of people equate spiritual care with religion. One of the things I’ve always believed and continue to believe is spiritual care could involve religion, but it doesn’t always. There are people who have no faith who also need their spirits tended to. You have to meet people where they are.”
Rossi said House was well-known at the health minister’s office and was “highly respected for her advocacy in spiritual care in all hospitals.” She also gave many educational presentations at various churches about ethics, health care, and human dignity.
In her acceptance speech, House also recounted a few losses, including the closures of some Catholic hospitals and the legalization of assisted suicide.
House, a grandmother of four, retired as executive director in 2016, the same year she received the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, the highest papal award a lay person can receive. She continues to volunteer for the health association.