Integrating Spiritual Care Into a Community Cancer Center

Topic: Staffing Models

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Background: Health care providers do not routinely screen for or address their patient’s spiritual care needs.   Yet a diagnosis of cancer, for many patients and families, is a profound challenge to their sense of well-being on multiple levels – physical, spiritual, emotional, social.  Barriers to the provision of spiritual care in a community cancer center setting may include – limited time, scarcity of skilled spiritual care providers, poor understanding of the impact of spirituality on patient/family well-being, and concern for rigorous clinical attention to cancer treatment. 

Methods: In September 2015, a chaplain resident from the Clinical Pastoral Education Residency Program joined the Supportive Care Clinic at Yuma Regional Cancer Center. The goal was to assess in an ongoing manner, the emotional and spiritual needs of complex patients, and to develop a plan to provide them with the opportunity to process their distress in real time. We began with the chaplain resident and palliative care physician seeing patients together during the weekly Supportive Care Clinic.  The chaplain’s presence with the physician helped to validate the value of the chaplain’s intervention thereby opening new opportunities for dialogue in the context of each clinic visit.  During this time, it was noted that the current single-item screening tool for spiritual distress did not identify those individuals at risk, and it was therefore not able to trigger referral for spiritual care.

Results: As patients and families developed a relationship with the chaplain, they began to request time with her.  Through the practice of being present and presenting a supportive and nonjudgmental attitude, the chaplain was able to provide spiritual care to patients regardless of their belief system.  Patients have reported improved quality of life

as a result of the care provided through the chaplain/physician team.  In addition, other supportive disciplines such as nurse navigation, case management, and physicians have sought out consultation and collaboration with the chaplain on an increasing basis.

Conclusions: Integration of spiritual care in a community cancer center has improved the overall perception of quality of care as patients and families begin to acquire tools that aid them in coping with the distresses accompanying their illness journey.

Author

  • Laree Carlson, BSN, MA
  • Spiritual Care Resident
  • Yuma Regional Cancer Center
  • 1320 West 24th Street
  • Yuma, AZ 85364
  • 928-328-9562

Co-authors

  • Jeanne Elnadry, MD
  • Laree Carlson, BSN, MA

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