Going beyond traditional medicine to measure effectiveness of pastoral care
Release Date: 10/16/2007

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Summit set to establish standards and develop measurements to improve spiritual and emotional dimensions of health care

OMAHA, Neb. – For many patients, the process of healing depends on more than medical technology or a surgeon’s skill.

To better understand how emotional and spiritual support advance the healing process, a collaborative group of hospital chaplains, religious sponsors and health care researchers will join with Alegent Health in an effort to establish standards and measurements to improve the effectiveness of pastoral care.

In partnership with Alegent Health, the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and the Catholic Health Association will host a summit in Omaha Oct. 22-24 to explore how compassionate, caring and faith-based care can enhance patient outcomes. More than 60 participants are expected for the event, which also aims to develop a series of best practice guidelines for pastoral care.

“As a faith-based care provider, Alegent Health’s healing ministry extends to the whole person – body, mind and spirit,’’ said Alegent Health CEO Wayne Sensor. “We believe this effort is consistent with our Mission as well as our vision to keep patients at the center of all we do. Defining and quantifying the benefits of spiritual care will help patients and their families while improving the well-being of the communities we serve.’’

David Lichter, executive director of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, said the project is exciting because it marks the first time such a wide-ranging group has gathered to define the benefits of pastoral care. While hospital chaplains play a lead role in providing spiritual support to hospital patients, physicians, nurses, rehabilitative care specialists and others also must be attuned to the holistic needs of patients.

“We know from the experiences of those who have dedicated their lives to pastoral care that their commitment makes a very real difference for patients and their families,’’ Lichter said. “However, to maximize these benefits and ensure that they extend to people of all faiths in a variety of care settings, we need to better define the techniques, methodologies and roles of different care providers in order to identify the best practices in this field.

Brian Yanofchick, senior director of Mission Integration for Catholic Health Association, said that meaningful metrics need to be developed that demonstrate the value and impact of pastoral care alongside other clinical services. The summit marks the first time that key issues in pastoral care will be addressed in such a comprehensive and coordinated fashion.

“We believe that our successful work at the Pastoral Care Summit will be both far-reaching and profound,’’ Yanofchick said. “Thanks to the broad involvement at the event, we know the impact will be felt among practitioners in the U.S., Canada and beyond.’’

The summit will take the form of Decision Accelerator Session and will be held at Alegent Health’s Right Track Center. The Right Track facility is an innovative work space designed by Alegent Health to facilitate collaborative information exchanges. The center is equipped with video recording and other critical information technology and staffed with research assistants capable of providing real-time answers to factual questions that arise during the course of in-depth discussions. The result is an environment that is ideal for creative thinking and strategic planning.

The Decision Accelerator session uses techniques developed by Silicon Valley companies to rapidly identify key issues, develop a consensus about desirable outcomes and establish benchmarks to quantify progress.

The Pastoral Care Summit will produce a visual map of the forces influencing care and the implications these factors hold for the future. The group will not only develop guidelines for the types of services, resources and staffing needed for effective pastoral care, but a vision for how this care should evolve over the coming decade. A series of short-term action plans will help chart a course of action for the next six, 12 and 18 months while a horizons model of success will establish milestones stretching over the course of the next 10 years.

The 60 participants include Catholic health religious sponsors, mission integration executives, directors of pastoral care, chaplains, representatives from graduate school programs in pastoral ministry, health care researchers and metrics and measurement representatives. Faith-based organizations represented by participants from the Spiritual Care Collaborative include the American Association of Pastoral Counselors; Association for Clinical Pastoral Education; Association of Professional Chaplains; Canadian Association for Pastoral Practice and Education; National Association of Catholic Chaplains; and National Association of Jewish Chaplains.

Alegent Health is the largest not-for-profit, faith-based health care system in Nebraska and southwestern Iowa with nine acute care hospitals, more than 100 sites of service, some 1,300 physicians on its medical staff and roughly 8,600 employees. Alegent Health is making health care better with an exceptional commitment to quality and by providing patient-focused care for the body, mind and spirit of every person consistent with its faith-based mission. Alegent Health continues the health ministry begun by its sponsors, Catholic Health Initiatives and Immanuel Health Systems, more than 100 years ago. For more information about Alegent Health, visit Alegent.com or call 1-800-ALEGENT.