Compassion the calling card for Spiritual Health practitioners
By Deborah Martens & Doug Koop
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, October 17, 2022
As the COVID-19 pandemic transformed workplaces throughout the province, Spiritual Health practitioners were among those responding to an ever-evolving array of needs in the health care system.
Everyone in hospitals or care homes was impacted by the pandemic – patients, clients, residents, families and staff. Many who accessed health care services or worked in health care during this long and uncertain season experienced higher levels of stress than in the past. Emotions could be raw.
Working in interdisciplinary teams and with Indigenous Health, Spiritual Health Services continued to provide resources and support to people from all walks of life by addressing their mental and spiritual health needs. Sometimes referred to as chaplains, these spiritual and emotional care specialists have been employed in acute and personal care settings for most of the past century.
Compassion is the calling card of Spiritual Health practitioners. They offer support to patients, families, caregivers, and staff – regardless of any individual’s faith tradition or spirituality. Their services are available to anyone who may be experiencing spiritual, emotional or existential distress, or who needs a compassionate ear or shoulder to lean on as they manage their well-being and health.
While the public may be familiar with Spiritual Health Services, what many people do not know is that they also support staff across the health care system. It has certainly not been an easy few years to work in health care, and there are a number of ways the Spiritual Health Services team has been able to help staff through it.
Throughout the pandemic, Spiritual Health Services has been in demand for one-to-one debriefing, a resource many staff had been largely unaware was available to them. The height of the pandemic had staff across the system working hard to adapt to changing protocols and care procedures. Many staff were redeployed to new work environments to support the areas of greatest need. Family visitors were few, vaccines were only just arriving, and stress levels were running high for everyone. Much like what we offer to patients, clients, residents and families, Spiritual Health Services offered compassionate conversations, active listening, and high-empathy, low-judgement support specific to staff, many of whom were able to take advantage of these services.
At Deer Lodge Centre, the Occupational Stress Injury Clinic was also called upon to offer support for staff. The clinic is made up of an interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, including Spiritual Health practitioners and Social Workers. Together, they offered a safe space for staff to share their experiences and to learn – or be reminded of – coping tools to protect their mental, physical and spiritual health.
The team also responded with support for units with ongoing outbreaks, including developing guidance for management in their efforts to support staff through the constant changes, and providing grief counseling and rituals where needed.
Throughout this process, Spiritual Health staff were humbled to discover how many staff in non-clinical areas, such as housekeeping, had more than a decade (or two) of experience at the site. While often viewed as "behind the scenes" staff, they are foundational to the work of providing the best care possible to those we serve. They often formed their own relationships with residents and were greatly impacted by the pandemic. It was important for Spiritual Health to support them through the challenges of this time.
There are good reasons why staff care has always been an important part of a practitioner's job. Healthcare service providers are exposed to spiritually and emotionally demanding situations. As compassionate, caring people, they share peoples' feelings and empathize with them. Debriefing or unburdening with a trained compassionate practitioner can help people regulate their emotions in a healthy way and continue their work with focus and attention.
Spiritual Health did little to "fix" any of the pandemic-exacerbated woes in peoples' lives or workplace, yet as practitioners, they were present—to feel the pain along with them, to witness the daily traumas, to help channel the feelings that spilled into the workplace, to name sorrows, and to convey a spirit of calm.
Deborah Martens and Doug Koop are Spiritual Health Practitioners working at Deer Lodge Centre and Health Sciences Centre.