Spring 2021 | Volume 102, Number 2
HEATHER SCHMIDT, DO, NICOLE DEWITT, MA, AND TOM BUSHLACK, PhD
The phrase "canary in the coal mine" is used to describe an early warning signal for danger. The canary played an important role in both American and British mining history. Coalminers took caged canaries into the mines with them to monitor for toxic gases. When the canary showed signs of distress, miners took this as a signal to promptly leave the mine to avoid asphyxiation. While the practice was discontinued in 1986, the phrase is often used in health care when it comes to well-being and professional burnout. It leads us to ask the following questions: Do we toughen up the canaries to make them more resilient to the toxic environment? Or do we fix the coal mine to decrease the risk of harm to humans and canaries? In other words, is employee well-being a problem of individual resiliency, or is it a problem with organizational culture or with the health care industry as a whole? Or is it some combination of all three?
FR. JOSEPH J. DRISCOLL, DMin
Every day, every night, pictures of doctors and nurses in personal protective equipment, interviews with alarmed emergency department physicians, and heart-breaking stories from weary ICU nurses are featured in the media.
STEVE TAPPE, MTS
South Dakota made some inauspicious lists last year. In April 2020 we were the site of the largest COVID cluster outbreak seen in the country at that time. In September we experienced the highest per capita surge in the country. Through the course of the pandemic, we are second in the nation in total COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents. All of which is to say, COVID has hit the Avera Health system hard.
KATHY OKLAND, RN, MPH, EDAC AND ADELEH NEJATI, AIA, PhD, EDAC
COVID-19 has laid bare the finite capacities of resources to care for our communities and our country, not the least of which is the very capacity to care. Providing care is physically and emotionally demanding, which is why it's essential that health care systems provide staff with places to recharge and find renewed peace for the soul. These spaces are essential for health and the health care workforce.
Michael Rozier, SJ, PhD
The coronavirus pandemic has forever altered our lives. Pope Francis said it is helping us to see that the good of each person individually is tied up with the common good of society as a whole, and vice versa.
ELLIE M. HANSON, MPH, LMSW
While the promise of spring means caregivers may face more days when they can be outdoors, we are still in a season of spotty weather and social isolation. This year, of course, we have an added layer of complexity with the coronavirus pandemic. By the time winter started this year, most of us had already been holed up in our houses to isolate ourselves from others for several months. The place in which we usually seek refuge can feel like a cage that holds us away from the rest of the world.
SR. M. PETER LILLIAN DI MARIA, O.CARM, AND SHANE COONEY
Health care workers around the world are living Jesus' message. The stories of frontline staff, especially those in long-term care who continued to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, will not be forgotten. They will be honored for the bravery they displayed daily and for the many examples of compassion they demonstrated to all they served. 2020 was an incredibly difficult year for them, their families and the people they cared for. As the deadly COVID-19 virus emerged, it was merciless in the way it attacked the most vulnerable among us, our precious aged and infirm. For a population that is already susceptible to illness, this insidious virus posed an enormous threat and ushered in new and unexpected struggles for caregivers.
Everyone noticed her hands. They were delicate but worn. Her pale Irish skin had been protected from the sun most of her life, but there were signs of how she exposed them to useful pursuits. They had been productive hands, engaged in the activities a devoted daughter, sister and aunt as well as a beloved art teacher and follower of God could offer. They were hands that regularly turned the pages of her worn bible, brushed away tears from the faces of her students, nieces and nephews. Her hands knew how to get dirty with paint and plaster or found objects she could turn into something beautiful or fun. She was what Mr. Rogers would classify as "a helper." She taught and nurtured many children at a local school, barely making enough to provide for herself. Her name was Jeanne, and she was my sister-in-law.
JOAN F. PETERS, JD, MPH
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought much needed attention to avoidable health disparities that long predate the pandemic. This overdue examination of disparities needs to include health disparities that exist between people with disabilities and non-disabled people, which are even more pronounced among racial and ethnic minorities with disabilities. At this moment of seeking to remedy disparities throughout society, health care providers can take a number of steps to aid the work of closing the gaps of equitable care for people with disabilities.
When visiting a local liquor store to purchase wine, I am immediately greeted by staff when I open the door. I hear a loud and hearty "Hello!" or "Welcome!" Most often, staff are quite busy ringing up customers, yet without fail they go out of their way to look to the store's entrance and call out their greeting. I have to say, it feels pretty good. It's why I come back to that store.
SALLY J. ALTMAN, MPH
It had been a rough last few months of 2020 for Kim Daniel, a resident of Preservation Square, an impoverished neighborhood just a mile northwest of downtown St. Louis. She had lost seven family members ranging in age from 22 to 81, three of them to COVID-19.
Catholic health care in the United States has lots of pieces. It includes many organizations, a diversity of sponsors, and multiple operational models and processes. Yet, these Catholic health ministries, sometimes independently and sometimes in cooperation with the Catholic Health Association, have produced a robust collection of ethical guidelines, effective formation processes, compassionate pastoral care procedures, meaningful community outreach, and approaches to finance that aim to balance justice and sustainability. Along with that, many Catholic health care systems have been conducting assessments of how effective these activities are at accomplishing their stated mission.
CHAD RAITH, PhD
One of four focus areas of the Catholic Health Association's recently released 2021-2023 strategic plan is to "articulate and strengthen the Catholic identity of our health ministries." To advance this goal, CHA details the important role mission leaders play in this work, including the professional competency to build strong Catholic identity and implement key mission activities within the organization. The continued focus on Catholic identity should be a welcome pillar for our health care ministries and an expected competency of mission leaders. Catholic identity has not only formed the original theological, ethical and spiritual context for our ministries, but it also provides the necessary vision and nourishment to sustain them into the future.
JON POPOWICH and GORDON SELF, DMin
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic reaches far beyond sick people. Everyone is disrupted; everyone is struggling with loss and uncertainty and grief for the way things used to be. In the health care universe, the job that is best suited to treat those feelings is the chaplain, but the pandemic has forced changes in how they do their work.