Body, mind and soul

“You go to doctors for physical pain, therapists for mental pain, and ministers to heal your spirit,” says Hilda Nickel. “I have all three at Deer Lodge.”


Spiritual Health Services bring comfort to Deer Lodge residents, patients and families

By Lindsay Mykes

Faith has given Hilda Nickel the strength to overcome many challenges – including a chronic condition that changed her life forever nearly 20 years ago. Today she lives at Deer Lodge Centre as a long-term care resident. Here she has freedom to move thanks to a motorized wheelchair. And thanks to an interdisciplinary health team, she’s regained the use of her hands, which helped her reclaim something even more important to her: the gift of music. Every Sunday morning she plays the organ at Deer Lodge’s inter-denominational Christian services – a weekly duty that brings joy to heart.

“You go to doctors for physical pain, therapists for mental pain, and ministers to heal your spirit,” she says. “I have all three at Deer Lodge.”

As a part of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Deer Lodge Centre recognizes that spirituality is a vital component of a holistic approach to healthcare.

The holistic approach

“We believe in treating the whole person and not just the illness or condition from which a person suffers,” says Adel Compton, regional director of the WRHA’s Spiritual Health Services. “The majority of patients with serious illness will experience spiritual distress as well as psychological distress and diminished levels of wellbeing. They want spiritual issues addressed in their care, especially when they’re close to death.”

A healthy spirituality can connect us with inner resources of resiliency, and strength and stability for coping with adversity, Compton explains. “It feeds our sense of gratitude and hopefulness and helps us come to terms with suffering and death.”

Even in less acute or non-life-threatening conditions, spiritual health services are essential to the wellbeing of patients who want them because “a healthy spirituality moves us towards love and compassion, meaning, hope, connectedness, wholeness, gratitude and forgiveness.”

Spiritual Health Services connected with more than 86,000 people in more than 58,000 interactions between 2016 and 2017. Staff resources to respond to the varying spiritual needs of patients, residents, families, and healthcare providers vary widely across the WRHA, but the goal everywhere is the same: to respond to a person’s spiritual needs wherever and whenever it is required.

This includes connecting clients with trained Spiritual Health Service professionals who can “recognize when a patient or resident is anxious, upset, worried and under pressure,” explains Compton. “Patients don’t always have the language or knowledge to understand when they are in need. We are trained to recognize and assess distress, and collaborate with the patient and healthcare team to find ways to help the person cope.”

“Access to Spiritual Health Services is by family or patient request, or by healthcare staff referral, where resources exist,” she adds.

Meeting a patient’s spiritual needs can take various forms, including one-to-one assessments, deep listen-ing, group care, facilitating end-of-life conversations, helping with crucial healthcare decision-making, and talking about death as a natural part of the human life cycle.

Healthcare for the soul

The spiritual needs of human beings are recognized by the World Health Organization’s definition of whole-person health and by Canadian accreditation standards for the delivery of holistic healthcare. According to a 2011 Environics survey, 79 per cent of Canadians believe in a God or universal spirit.

Since physicians and nurses don’t always have the capacity, training or confidence to address the spiritual needs of their patients, Spiritual Health Practitioners (SHPs) and Spiritual Health Educated Coordinators, such as those who work at Deer Lodge Centre and other WRHA facilities, are vital members of the healthcare team.

But how, exactly, do we define spirituality?

The WRHA’s Spiritual Health Services follows the global consensus definition of spirituality outlined in the Journal of Palliative Medicine:

A dynamic and intrinsic aspect of humanity through which persons seek ultimate meaning, purpose, and transcendence, and experience relationship to self, family, others, community, society, nature, and the significant or sacred. Spirituality is expressed through beliefs, values, traditions, and practices.

Elsewhere, the WRHA distinguishes spirituality from religion: spirituality is universal and personal and not necessarily tied to any religious belief. Religion is one of the ways a person may experience or express spirituality. Religion is an organized set of beliefs and practices designed to guide its members in how to live and worship. As such, it is affiliated with a sense of community support and healthy behaviours.

WRHA’s Spiritual Health Services respect diversity, inclusion and flexibility. For instance, in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, Spiritual Health Services works with Indigenous Health Services to offer person-centered holistic healthcare for all.

Last year, says Compton, the two services collaborated on a project exploring ways to address barriers to smudging at Health Sciences Centre, with a view to addressing similar barriers at other WRHA sites in the future.

“Spiritual Health Services responds to the spiritual needs of the whole community,” says Compton. “We meet people as they are, where they are, and respond as their spiritual needs dictate.”

A spiritual community of caring

At Deer Lodge, Hilda Nickel says the one-on-one time she spends with Jonathan Jandavs-Hedlin, one of the centre’s spiritual health practitioners, is extremely important – even when it comes to dealing with nothing more urgent than day-to-day stressors. “He’s an anchor of calm when life begins to feel overwhelming. Our moments of prayer together help me deal with anything.”

Both of Deer Lodge’s spiritual health practitioners have masters degrees in theology and have completed programs in advanced clinical pastoral education through the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care, Canada’s only national spiritual healthcare association.

“While we’re a tiny department, we offer a variety of programs and services,” he says. His duties include coordinating various religious and organized spiritual services such as:

  • Weekly Catholic Mass
  • Weekly inter-denominational Christian worship
  • Quarterly Indigenous Solstice ceremonies in conjunction with Indigenous Health Services
  • Quarterly Buddhist mindfulness practice
  • Jewish holidays & events three times per year
  • Providing sacred texts as requested (such as the Bible, Qur’an, etc.)

He’s also a part of healthcare teams on Deer Lodge’s long-term care units.

“While a significant amount of our time there involves visiting residents one to one, supporting and visiting with families, and providing support around end-of-life, we also organize and facilitate groups where residents have an opportunity to explore and speak about their spirituality, including hymn sings, prayer times and memorial services.”

These services are invaluable to Hilda Nickel, who says she learned the value of prayer, guidance and gratitude from her father, who grew up during the Mennonite purges in Russia in the Thirties.

“It means everything to know I’m not alone – in the spiritual sense, and also in knowing that I’m part of this community that cares, that prays together, and shares each other’s burdens.”