Sunday, May 28, 2017

Spiritual Care Helps Patients, Saves Money

Illness is a spiritual experience for most patients

Shockwaves rolled through Canada’s spiritual health care community in March when the government of Saskatchewan eliminated pastoral care services in that province.

While increasing the overall health care budget very slightly (by 0.7 percent), the province cut several services it considered non-essential—like spiritual care.

“In recognition of the fiscal situation we’re in, it’s about trying to get to the core services of health,” Health Minister Jim Reiter said. “The services that we cut, while they’d be nice to have . . . they certainly wouldn’t be what we’d consider the core services of health.”

The cut to spiritual health care services will save the province $1.5 million a year.

Following Saskatchewan’s decision, there was concern in Manitoba that something similar might happen here as the province tries to maximize efficiency in the healthcare system.

“We are imagining that many (or most) of us are concerned about the upcoming provincial budget,” the executive team of the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care wrote to spiritual health care providers in Manitoba in March, before the budget was tabled.

The news from Saskatchewan, “is concerning,” the letter continued, “and we are aware of the stress that some are carrying because of this.”

As it turns out, their fears were unfounded. 

The Manitoba government did not cut spiritual care services, although a decision to reduce management jobs means at least one spiritual health care director position will be eliminated at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre.

Altogether, in 2016-17, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) budgeted $3 million for 46.75 full-time equivalent spiritual health care positions. An additional $600,000 was raised by religiously-based institutions such as assisted-care homes.

That’s not a lot out of a total budget of $2.8 billion a year. But with pressure on from the provincial government to trim $83 million in 2017-18, why should scarce resources be used for spiritual care? 

That’s the question I posed to Adel Compton, Regional Director of Spiritual Health Services for the WRHA.

For Compton, spiritual care is an essential part of whole-person care in the health care system.

“Each of us tries to make sense of life,” she says. “But when we end up in hospital, that sense of meaning can be challenged, especially if we are very ill or facing death.”

Spiritual care, provided by trained spiritual health care providers, “can help people understand what’s happening to them, and what choices are available to them that fit into their life and values.”

Providing these services is also an aid to nurses and doctors, who are often very busy and have not enough time to spend with patients.

“We have the time to listen to people, to calm them down, help them make informed decisions for treatment,” she says.

“We help people connect with whatever it is that gives them the strength” so they can cope with their medical situation, she adds—and make it easier for the medical team to do their jobs.

All of this not only helps patients and staff, but it saves money, too. “There are numerous studies that show that spiritual health care results in better patient outcomes,” she says.

A quick Google search shows she is right. Over 400 studies have found that religion or spirituality helps patients cope better with illness, and deal better with the stress caused by health problems.

The studies also show that religion or spirituality promotes hope for recovery, and provides rituals and behaviors that helps people ease anxiety, lessen depression and promote greater overall well-being.

“Illness is a spiritual experience for most patients,” especially those with serious illnesses, says Tracy Balboni, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School.

Balboni, who has been conducting research into how spirituality affects the experience of patients in hospitals, adds that “patients want to be seen as whole persons, not just as bodies affected by illness.”

Through her research, Balboni has also has found when religious or spiritual needs are not addressed, it reduces a patient’s quality of life and satisfaction with care, and doubles or triples healthcare costs towards the end of life.

So while the Saskatchewan government’s decision to cut spiritual care services might save a few dollars now, maybe it won’t turn out to be such a good move in the long term.

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