Spiritual Care Highlighted at Walla Walla General Hospital

January 01, 2011 | Brittany Russell

Lydia had been full of life and active in her church. But now she was frustrated. She had lost her hearing and speech to throat cancer and was in the hospital with a disease that had also taken her eyesight. In less than six years, she had lost most of her senses. She wasn’t old, just 56, but she was losing her will to live. Her doctors told her that her illness wouldn’t kill her, but her lack of will would.

Reaching for Faith

Paul Crampton, Adventist Health assistant vice president for Mission and Spiritual Care and previously a chaplain at the hospital where Lydia was a patient, knew he needed to reach her. He decided to use touch, often the most powerful of the senses in healthcare, to reach out to Lydia.

He placed a wooden cross in the palm of her hand and gently squeezed her fingers closed over it. Then he moved her hand to her cheek and then to her heart.

A slight smile appeared on Lydia’s face as she realized the message being communicated. She mouthed, “God loves me.” This realization filled her with hope and strength to overcome her tragedy.

Inspiring a Breakthrough

This “breakthrough” moment is often what can turn around a situation for a patient in despair such as Lydia. In an effort to communicate the importance of spirituality in healthcare and assist in making these breakthrough moments possible, Walla Walla General Hospital hosted its first Spiritual Care Symposium on Nov. 11, 2010. Nearly 70 physicians, nurses, therapists, pastors, volunteers and community members attended the half-day event that explored recent research in the field of spirituality and health as well as the importance of faith in the coping and healing process.

“The idea is to extend our ministry beyond the walls of the hospital,” says Mario DeLise, WWGH director of Spiritual Care. “Our goal is to help equip and support those providing care and ministry — both in and out of the hospital.”

“It is important to let the community know what we are about,” adds Monty Knittel, WWGH president and CEO. “The fact that this event was so successful in its first year shows that our mission matters to the community.”

Spirituality Heals

The Spiritual-Care Symposium focused on bringing spirituality to the forefront of healing. Helping participants to be conduits of healing and integrating spirituality into the care they provide is the essence of Adventist Health’s mission.

According to Crampton, research shows that religious involvement and spirituality are directly related to positive outcomes from treatments. The more spiritual a patient, the more able they are to cope with their illness.

“Spirituality provides meaning, hope and transcendence when battling with illness,” says Crampton, a presenter at the event. “It is the element that inspires them to find strength beyond themselves and overcome all obstacles when facing a health problem.”

“With faith, it's okay not to have all the answers,” adds Gina Pollard, participant. “Some questions don't require an answer, just someone who will listen.”