Lack of budget affects patient mental well-being
By Kiply Lukan Yaworski
Photo caption: Pope Francis blesses a sick child as he leads a special audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Dec. 15 for patients and workers of Rome's Bambino Gesu children's hospital. Saskatchewan will eliminate pastoral care services from the provincial budget, removing spiritual care from clergy in hospitals. (CNS photo / Max Rossi, Reuters)
The elimination of provincially funded spiritual care services in hospitals and care homes across Saskatchewan will seriously affect patient care and health outcomes, predicts Simon Lasair of the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care.
As part of the 2017 provincial budget announced March 22 by Finance Minister Kevin Doherty, "pastoral care services" amounting to some $1.5 million annually were eliminated from provincial health care funding.
The cuts affect spiritual-care departments and personnel funded through the provincial health-care system. Pastoral care provided by clergy, staff and volunteers from faith communities is not funded by the province. Some faith-based facilities also use funding from foundations or endowments to cover spiritual and pastoral care beyond what the province has provided.
The decision does not take into account the invaluable and unique skills that spiritual-care providers bring to a health-care team, said Lasair, who serves as the national spiritual care association's marketing, promotions and advocacy chair for the Saskatchewan region.
Stress, fear, and loss are commonly experienced by patients, families and staff in health-care and long-term settings. Spiritual-care providers address the spiritual dimensions of these difficult or life-altering situations, said Lasair.
"One of the implications of this decision is that there is actually going to be a greater burden of care upon the system, because professionals will not be there to provide the emotional and spiritual support needed," he says.
Many don't understand the distinction between pastoral care and spiritual care, Lasair points out.
Pastoral care consists of religious support and denominational care – often involving clergy or faith communities. "Spiritual care, on the other hand, is more generalized, providing emotional and spiritual support for health-care clients and their families," he said, stressing the unique, specialized training of professional spiritual-care providers in the health-care system.
Cutting professional spiritual care in hospital and long-term care settings also eliminates the partnership and support that spiritual-care departments routinely provide to clergy and faith communities that are offering pastoral care to their members, said Lasair. "Without spiritual care departments to oversee the dissemination of information, we are not entirely sure how community clergy are even going to know if their people are in hospital."
The result will be many left without any form of spiritual care at all. "The majority of clients we see in the health care system are people who have no religious background whatsoever – and although they may not understand what spiritual care is all about, these people have spiritual needs as well," Lasair said.