The newly appointed Covenant Health Board Chair says the history and legacy of Catholic health care led him to his new position, announced at Covenant Health’s Annual General Meeting Oct. 21. Ed Stelmach replaces outgoing Board Chair John Brennan.
“In Grade 1, I had a serious incident on a playground slide where I had a double fracture of my femur, where the bone almost sticks out from the skin.”
Ed says his brother found him on the playground and he was brought to a hospital in Mundare under the Sisters’ care. "In those days, they put me in a cage with tape on the side, moved me into a six-person ward and that was a place I occupied for two months—and then I stayed awhile longer in a body cast,” says Ed.
Being of Ukrainian descent and not speaking English, Ed recalls there was no television, no kindergarten and no other interventions to keep a school-age patient occupied.
“The Sisters took it upon themselves to teach me to read and speak English, teach me arithmetic, and they assigned responsibilities to different patients in the ward—one patient read with me, one fellow taught math to me,” says Ed. “The Sisters did this solely on their volunteer time. So forever, they played an integral part in my life.”
Ed says the kind of support he remembers as a child is exactly the reason Covenant Health is a vital part of Alberta’s healthcare system. He believes it is a compelling story that still has relevance today—for citizens of Alberta and for the healthcare system that serves them.
“Not only did we play an integral role in putting the fabric of health care together in Alberta,” says Ed, “we can expand and support government today—not only in acute care and continuing care, but in mental health too.”
He also believes that in today’s world, people are looking for more from a healthcare provider than just medicine or treatment.
“My personal observation is that, in the face of a catastrophic event, a serious illness, an accident or a premature death in the family, people seek so much emotional support. As a faith-based organization, Covenant Health is able to help heal the whole person—mind, body and soul,” says Ed. “It’s our culture, we grew up with it—that’s the Sisters' legacy.”
He believes government needs partners like Covenant Health and others to ensure the long-term sustainability of our system. “I am always convinced that, while government sets direction, they do need partners to help. Government can’t do it alone and will never be able to do it alone.”
“The story of Catholic health care is a story of faith, courage, compassion and astute leadership,” says Ed. "It’s not a story of religion or politics.”
“I care very deeply about this history and the values the Sisters have,” says Ed. “I don’t know how I would have fared if I didn’t have them—I was and am forever grateful.”
In his post-government days, Ed continues to serve as a board member for a few organizations and, along with his wife Marie, stays active in the Mundare Catholic community. He also does a bit of farming and keeps up with his seven grandkids.
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