Providing Comfort and Peace Through Spiritual Care

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Spiritual Care is an important component of end-of-life care.

By Rafael J. Sciullo

Carol was a Family Hospice RN assigned to a local skilled nursing facility. One day while making rounds, she checked in on a patient named Mary, a lovely woman in her eighties who was nearing the final phases of her life-limiting illness. After updating the chart and making sure Mary was comfortable, Carol leaned over and asked “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Yes,” Mary replied, “could you arrange to have someone sit with me and pray?”

Faith, spirituality and cultural beliefs tend to play prominent roles for many of those experiencing a life-limiting illness. Embracing one’s faith aids in understanding not only the human experience, but the process of death and dying and can give some meaning to illness and suffering. In some instances, patients have been known to endure their suffering in the hope that it will lead to something good as they prepare for their new existence after life on Earth.

On April 13, Family Hospice and Palliative Care will serve as a local host to The Hospice Foundation of America’s 18th annual Living With Grief ® CEU conference: “Spirituality and End-of-Life Care.”  Presented by The Institute to Enhance Palliative Care, this conference serves as an educational opportunity for local professionals such as physicians, nurses, social workers, clergy and counselors to earn continuing education credits while addressing spirituality during illness, death and grief.

The Hospice Foundation of America’s seminar includes clinical, ethical and spiritual experts from across the nation – and their discussion will be moderated by Frank Sesno, Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University.

According to Leonard Sponaugle, M.Div., Spiritual Care Specialist at Family Hospice, this year’s conference will be proactive in nature. “This program will equip clinicians to provide from the start of the patient’s care what too frequently only chaplains provide during a crisis, or when the patient is actively dying.”

“Spirituality and End-of-Life Care” will discuss differences between spirituality and religion, while also addressing approaches to finding meaning at the end of life, including life review.

The Hospice Foundation of America’s presentation will be followed by a local panel discussion at The Center for Compassionate Care. Panelists include Rev. De Neice Welch, Pastor of Bidwell United Presbyterian Church in Manchester (and coordinator of the Transitions hospice program for African-Americans in the greater North Side),     Rev. Charles Starr, Chaplain at Shadyside Hospital, and Barbara Usher,  RN, PhD, a clinical nurse specialist for the Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics at UPMC.

The panel will offer the opportunity for attendees to gain a greater understanding through real-life experiences and give-and-take conversation.

It’s wise for clinicians to help dying patients find meaning through spirituality. Although they may not be able to discuss a person’s spiritual concerns in depth, healthcare professionals certainly should be able to identify those who have spiritual needs and act upon an appropriate referral to a spiritual care provider.

Family Hospice and Palliative Care offers non-denominational spiritual support to patients and their loved ones who request it. From our memorial services to the Meditation Room at The Center for Compassionate Care, every effort is made to respect and embrace people of all faiths.

Our own staff at Family Hospice has encountered social workers and nurses who have expressed a lack of insight into the role of spiritual care staff when caring for those at the end of life.  Numerous RNs and social workers said they were always under the impression that chaplains pray with patients and that was it.  A better understanding of roles and their meanings can only improve the patient experience.

Whether it be to address a life-limiting illness, life crisis, or daily stress, prayer and spirituality play an important role for many of us. As we all search for meaning and direction in our own way, it is our hope that professionals attending this conference will be better prepared to help their patients find the guidance they seek at end of life.

For those interested in attending: “Spirituality and End-of-Life Care” takes place Wednesday, April 13, 1-4:30 p.m. at Family Hospice’s Center for Compassionate Care, 50 Moffett St., Mt. Lebanon. Program is free; three CEUs offered for $25 (credit card) or $35 (check). To register, call 412-572-8747, or visit www.familhhospice.com and click on “Health Professionals.” Light refreshments will be offered and free parking is available.

Rafael J. Sciullo, MA, LCSW, MS, is President and CEO of Family Hospice and Palliative Care and Past Chairperson of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. He may be reached at rsciullo@familyhospice.com or (412) 572-8800. Family Hospice and Palliative Care serves nine counties in Western Pennsylvania. Its website is www.familyhospice.com.