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There have been plenty of studies in the last few years that indicate patients do better if their spiritual needs are being met. This is a message that Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, AR, recently took to heart.
Under the leadership of Sandy Rehak, patient satisfaction coordinator, the 225-bed hospital formed a spiritual care committee, which effected changes that led to improved patient satisfaction scores and recognition from Press, Ganey Associates, a South Bend, IN-based customer satisfaction consulting agency, as a finalist in its annual Client Success Stories publication.
Rehak says the driving force for the committee came after Press, Ganey added a question on spiritual care to its survey in 1998. "We didn’t do well there, and it was always up in the priority index’ on our reports," Rehak says. "But no one ever did anything about this. We live in the Bible Belt. There are 79 churches in our immediate area, but we had no chaplain at the hospital. We didn’t even have a ministerial alliance."
When Rehak asked her boss about hiring a chaplain, she was told there was no budget. But Rehak didn’t let the idea go. She started doing her own research. Calling patients who had responded to surveys and scored that area low, Rehak asked what they would like to see in the area of spiritual care. "They wanted bibles in their rooms — something we were supposed to do anyway — and they wanted a chaplain."
Next, she surveyed local pastors, asking if they were interested in helping out and what they thought should be included in the spiritual care of patients. "I knew I had to have local pastors supporting the idea if I wanted to get administrative buy-in," says Rehak.
Through word of mouth, other hospital staff came on board, and the spiritual care committee was formed. Among the charter members was Jan Ringler, RN, the cancer resource coordinator at the hospital. She coordinated a trip to a hospital in Fayetteville, where committee members talked to the chaplains and volunteers about their spiritual care program. It was the first of several field trips and conference calls to area hospitals to determine what works.
The committee came up with a list of the items it determined were key to improving the spiritual care of patients. These are:
• Arrange for local ministers to visit their church members. Just forging a relationship with the 79 area ministers helps to ensure the goal is met.
• Provide patients with an updated list of churches.
• Provide Bibles in all patient rooms. This was already hospital policy, but until the committee acted on it, many rooms were missing their Bibles.
• Obtain Bible cassettes for visually impaired patients. Each nursing unit now has a tape player and cassettes on hand.
• Improve directional signs to the chapel and refurbish that facility. That was achieved through volunteer time and local donations.
• Create and disseminate a spiritual brochure handout. (See sample pages from brochure.)
• Start a volunteer "Prayer Warriors" — hospital employees who will go to a patient’s room to pray with them when requested. (See "Volunteers need guidelines for prayer program," in this issue.)
• Form a pastor’s advisory committee. Five area pastors now serve on that committee.
• Hire a full-time chaplain.
Most of these were easy and cheap to accomplish. The only big-ticket item was the full-time chaplain.
Around the same time the committee was putting its list together, a local pastor approached the hospital administrator and asked why there was no chaplain at the hospital. It was, Rehak says, serendipitous to say the least.
Along with all her initial research, Ringler was able to include some of the medical literature that supported the idea that spiritual care could have a positive impact on outcomes. After the meeting, the administration decided to budget for a chaplain. At press time, interviews were pending and Rehak anticipated that a chaplain would start at the beginning of the year.
"The idea isn’t to push religion, but to meet spiritual needs," says Rehak. To make sure that everyone understood the difference, there were training sessions and written information reinforcing the idea. "Nothing will turn people off more than someone trying to jam religion down their throat," says Ringler. "And while we are mostly white and Christian down here, there are others. We have a lot of retirement communities and are a summer recreational area. There are increasing numbers of Asians, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Jews. We have to meet all the needs."
Along with an increase in patient satisfaction from the 71st to the 97th percentile, the new emphasis on spiritual care has created an increase in the use of the hospital chapel and increased calls for spiritual care from patients to their nursing units.
Key to the success, says Ringler, has been the willingness of area ministers to work with the hospital. "Without their support, this couldn’t have happened. And we knew we had to have that support before we went to our administrator. One of his first questions was, What did the local pastors say?’"
[For more information, contact:
• Sandy Rehak, Patient Satisfaction Coordinator; Jan Ringler, RN, Cancer Resource Coordinator, Baxter Regional Medical Center, 624 Hospital Drive, Mountain Home, AR 72653. Telephone: (870) 424-1498.]