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Mission-focused care

Louise Frankeni  |  21 August 2018

Tara Peters, St John of GodFor many who work at St John of God Health Care, it is far more than a job, or indeed, simply care-giving.

Catholic hospitals are on the front line of the Church’s mission in Australia. While only families engage with schools, and social ministries engage mostly with those at the margins, people from all backgrounds and walks of life engage with Catholic health care institutions.

These institutions work hard to ensure that their care reflects the healing mission of Christ. From those who are entrusted as mission directors, to those in leadership positions and those working directly with patients – getting the mission aspect of the work right has a real effect on the experiences of people in care.

St John of God Health Care employs more than 13,000 caregivers across 23 facilities in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia Pacific region. They provide the community with medical, surgical, maternity, rehabilitation, mental health, community and youth, home nursing, and disability services.

The organisation’s values are, ‘Hospitality, Compassion, Respect, Justice and Excellence’. Placing these values at the centre of the organisation’s activities gives caregivers something to strive for each day.

We spoke to three caregivers about how this mission impacts on their work and the way that they relate to patients.

Tara Peters
St John of God Midland Public and Private Hospital Director of Mission Integration (pictured above)

Tara Peters’ role is to work with leaders and care-givers to advance the mission of St John of God Health Care hospitals.

‘It’s about finding ways the Gospel message, which is unchanging, can touch the hearts of all people, who are ever-changing’, she says.

She says respect is the driving force behind the work of staff at the hospitals, and this often means going ‘above and beyond’ what’s required.

Tara shares the story of a young nurse who was caring for an older man in a palliative care unit. The man had no one to support him, so the nurse discovered what kind of music he liked, and brought in a CD player and music for him. This small act of consideration provided dignity and hope to the man in his final days.

When relationships between staff members are strong, she says, they are then able to ‘speak a common language’ of respect, so they can offer a high level of care to others.

‘The relationship we have with each other is critical’, she says.

Tony Huistinveld
St John of God Berwick
Medical Unit Manager

Nursing practices are constantly adapting to new wisdom and technology, but the fundamental ways in which care is provided remains the same, says Tony Huistinveld.

‘Great nursing care never changes’, he says.

Tony’s role is to provide leadership to caregivers in his unit, and to lead by example when treating patients. He says great nursing involves displaying open communication, positivity and empathy. This is particularly important in the palliative care unit where there is ‘only one opportunity to get it right’.

Tony says compassion is perhaps the most important of the St John of God Health Care values.

‘We demonstrate this by being present, actively listening to the needs of the patients, their families and the caregivers at St John of God health care, and advocating for these needs in the most appropriate and professional ways that we can.’

Dr Jeff Bertucen
St John of God Richmond Hospital Psychiatrist

Dr Jeff Bertucen has been with St John of God Health Care hospitals since he was a trainee. He says it’s a place where people are happy with their work and mission.

‘I know it sounds cliché, but the hospital is a place to provide sanctuary and asylum’, he says.

In recent years, he says, the number of people seeking his professional assistance has increased. He believes it’s mostly because there’s less stigmatisation around mental health issues.

A particular story stands out for Dr Bertucen. Ten years ago, a woman in her late 20s came to the hospital with drug and alcohol dependency, but due to economic circumstances, could not afford the services and so was admitted to the hospital under charitable means for a four-week stay.

The young woman abstained from drug use during her stay, and continued to abstain after being discharged. She later beat her addiction and went on to study nursing. This young woman still visits Dr Bertucen.

It is these sorts of stories, and the sense of ‘hospitality and pride’ among caregivers, that continue to energise his work.

‘I would never be interested in practising clinical medicine anywhere else’, he says.

For more on the work of St John of God Health Care, go to


Topic tags: thecatholictradition, socialjustice-australia

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