Manitoba’s New Spiritual Health Care Strategic Plan

Categories: Policy.

We are encouraged by the recognition that spiritual care is a vitally important aspect of a responsive and responsible health care system. Manitoba is the first province in Canada to produce a spiritual health care strategic plan.

A recent article in the Winnipeg Sun written by Ross Romaniuk about the new spiritual health care strategic plan was accompanied by a photograph of a man in a complex yoga position that few of us can relate to, never mind achieve. Unfortunately, for some readers, the inference suggested by the photograph might be that spiritual care is something foreign, exotic, strange, and not part of our common human experience.


In the article itself, Colin Craig, Prairie Regional Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation charged that the spiritual health plan will take a toll in dollars and cents, even if it doesn’t involve new hirings of care co-ordinators or other personnel.


“Unless those people are volunteering, it’s going to cost the taxpayer a good chunk of change,” he said. “And if you have extra people around who you could convert into spiritual co-ordinators, those are positions that could be cut.”


The photograph and the statements warrant further examination of the value and role of spiritual care within the health care system.


Perhaps it was appropriate that the announcement of the new strategic plan for spiritual care was made at the recent Hospice & Palliative Care Manitoba Annual Provincial Conference, given the importance of spiritual care within the context of serious or life-threatening illness, palliative care, and end of life.


Anyone who has faced a life-threatening illness or provided care and support, either as a formal health care provider, or in the role of family caregiver or friend, knows first-hand that while pain and symptom management are absolutely vital, care does not end there. During times of serious illness or crisis, whether in hospital, personal care homes, private homes, assisted living, rehabilitation, hospices and many other places, countless numbers of people turn to spiritual resources.


The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO, 1998) clearly states that patients have a fundamental right to considerate care that safeguards their personal dignity and respects their cultural, psychosocial and spiritual values.
In a White Paper on professional chaplaincy from the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care, the authors, representing the five largest healthcare chaplaincy organizations in North America, state that “institutions that ignore the spiritual dimension…increase their risk of becoming only biological garages where dysfunctional human parts are repaired or replaced. Such “prisons of technical mercy” obscure the integrity and scope of persons.
In a study of 1,600 cancer patients, the contribution of patient-reported spiritual well being to quality of life was similar to that associated with physical well being. Among patients with significant symptoms such as fatigue and pain, those with higher levels of spiritual well being had a significantly higher quality of life.

Numerous other studies repeatedly point to the fact that unresolved religious or spiritual conflicts are associated with decreased health recovery and adjustment to illness. In addition to personal and social impacts, this translates into increased use of health care resources. From this perspective, spiritual care makes a substantial positive contribution to decreasing health care costs. Amongst many other benefits, providing spiritual care makes good financial sense.


The following is a partial list of some of the services offered by spiritual care providers, to patients, their families, health care staff, and the community:

  1.  Grief and loss care
  2. Risk screening – identifying individuals whose religious/spiritual conflicts may compromise recovery or satisfactory adjustment
  3. Facilitation of spiritual issues related to organ/tissue donation
  4. Crisis intervention/Critical Incident Stress Debriefing
  5. Communication with caregivers
  6. Facilitation of staff communication
  7. Conflict resolution among staff members, patients, and family members
  8. Referral and linkage to resources
  9. Assistance with decision making and communication regarding the affairs of the decedent (a person who has died)
  10. Provision of support relative to personal crises or work stress
  11. Institutional support during organizational change or crisis
  12. Advocating as cultural brokers between institutions, patients, family and staff and much more.

It is indeed the government’s role to ensure that services are there for the public. As the population ages, there will be an increase in both chronic, long-term illnesses, and life-limiting conditions or illnesses.


As human beings, patients, family caregivers and friends, we all want to be treated as whole persons, not simply as a unit on an assembly line in a “biological garage”. The adoption and subsequent application of a spiritual care strategy will help to ensure that we and our loved ones will receive considerate care that safeguards our dignity and respects our cultural, psychosocial and spiritual values when it’s our turn, or our loved ones turn, to be a patient.

Hospice & Palliative Care Manitoba (HPCM) is a registered charitable non-profit organization that promotes compassionate, effective care for all Manitobans touched by any life-threatening condition or bereavement, and provides services and education complementary to the formal health care system.


The Vision of HPCM is that all Manitobans experiencing a life-threatening condition live well until the end of life and that those around them are cared for in the process.

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