Patient care in the hospital is sometimes provided by community clergy, pastors and authorized representatives of religious organizations who support people from their own spiritual circles.
That isn’t happening these days as COVID-19 protocols continue to ban any visits except for closest kin in situations where the need for compassion is overwhelming.
These restrictions can create any number of troubling consequences.
Recently, for example, I received a call from a local Anglican minister who had helped a person from his church community enter the hospital after an incident of domestic violence. He had many concerns about his parishioner’s well-being and was there as an advocate.
Unfortunately, the minister’s credentials did not pass muster at the screening point, so a fragile patient entered the system alone.
After he contacted our office, I went looking for the patient. I learned the patient did exist in the hospital’s computers, but had walked away before having a chance to be examined by a doctor. It’s not uncommon for hospitalized people to leave against medical advice.
"Patient autonomy," the right of adults to make their own choices — even if they’re bad ones — is a jealously guarded element of health-care policy in Canada.
I searched at a couple of nearby gathering places, but came away empty. Alas, a person with physical injuries, emotional distress and no safe place to stay was no longer in the queue. The minister’s deep sigh when I relayed this news was telling.
"It really frustrates me that we cannot shepherd our people properly," he said.
Frustration festers. Pastoral shepherding is difficult at the best of times, and this pandemic has put new wrinkles into the task of community-building.
COVID-19 is not the only scourge. One of its symptoms — frustration — is also epidemic. It reveals itself in matters small and large, from the irritating inconveniences to the genuine tragedies where human beings who need each other are cut off because of restrictive protocols.
People who are palliating are not the only patients who would benefit from having trusted companions by their side, especially when a personal support team with healthy guidance stands ready to help out.
Spiritual Health Practitioners with faces tucked behind masks are available to patients on request. We’ll make those calls, but we are missing those people in the community whose pre-existing relationships position them to offer greater succor and support. Good visitors promote healing. They help to soften the suffering of beleaguered souls.
Now that the province is in the process of reopening, the compassionate exception to the no-visitor rules ought to broadened beyond the deathbed allowances currently in effect.
Not everyone will welcome this reopening overture. In addition to protecting the hospital from becoming a COVID hot zone, the absence of visitors has made the wards both safer and easier to manage. Staff are experiencing fewer interruptions from families, fewer advocates to satisfy, fewer questions to answer and requests to oblige. These are nice efficiencies.
But the term "medical care" contains two words, and while the system majors on the first, a good many staff members are naturally inclined towards the second. The two cannot in fact be separated: body care and soul care are inextricably entwined. Indeed, the desire to provide compassionate care is what attracts many to medical careers in the first place.
Community clergy remain an important asset. They, too, serve in places where people who are hurting come to be healed. Their concern for the well-being of others brings them to bedsides where their services are welcome, and their presence can help to prevent people from slipping through cracks in the system. As such they are essential.
Doug Koop is a spiritual health practitioner and freelance writer.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.