Faith leaders want spiritual care positions to be reinstated

Temporary funding has run out for the co-ordinator who was in place at Abbotsford and Langley hospitals.

Rev. Dr. Hans Kouwenberg

Rev. Dr. Hans Kouwenberg

Local faith leaders want Fraser Health to reinstate and fund the 12 spiritual care co-ordinators who were axed from hospitals in late 2009.

The positions were eliminated throughout the region to save approximately $650,000.

But the Abbotsford Christian Leaders Network (ACLN) and the Langley Ministerial Association felt it was integral to retain the roles at their hospitals, saying spiritual care was as important as physical care.

They raised their own funds – through local churches – to fund the positions for two years.

Abbotsford’s share was $25,000 for each year, and Langley’s was $12,500.

Perrie Peverall was initially hired to spend two days a week at Abbotsford Regional Hospital and one day a week at Langley Memorial, with her benefits and pension paid by Fraser Health. She later began an additional day each week in Langley.

A third year of funding was covered through a private gift, but the money ran out last week, and Peverall completed her last shift.

Rev. Dr. Hans Kouwenberg, a spokesman for the ACLN, said the funding was always intended to be temporary.

“The hope and prayer was that Fraser Health would step up (and re-fund the positions),” he said.

After the 12 positions were eliminated, social workers began filling the role at the other hospitals in the region.

This involves them receiving requests from families who want spiritual care either for themselves or a loved one in the hospital, and the social worker pairing them with an appropriate person from the community who is on a list to offer such care.

But Kouwenberg said a spiritual care coordinator offers more in-depth services, including coordinating all the visits from faith leaders, coordinating and training volunteers, debriefing staff after a crisis, and ministering to patients who cannot wait for a visit because they are in crisis or death is imminent.

He said using only social workers, who are not trained in spiritual care, leaves potential gaps in essential patient services.

“We feel the community needs to rise up and say, ‘This is not good enough.’”

Kouwenberg said the ACLN is waiting for feedback from provincial health minister Terry Lake.

Mark Goudsblom, site director of Abbotsford Regional Hospital, said spiritual care is an important part of the health care spectrum, and Fraser Health is currently looking at how to best manage that on a regional basis.

He said this process is currently in the early stages and it is too soon to know the specifics.

“We remain committed to this relationship and will work with the community to ensure the important work of spiritual care providers is available to the patients and families of Abbotsford,” he said.