Guest Column                                       Return to ”News Stories about LHH and SFGH” Index
West of Twin Peaks Observer
June 2008

Dying Patients Lose Spiritual Care at Laguna Honda
by Sister Miriam Walsh
Director, Pastoral Care Sevices, Laguna Honda Hospital

Over the past 20 years, the Hospice at Laguna Honda Hospital has cared for over 2,000 dying persons and many more bereaved loved ones.  About 50% of our deaths occur in the home-like Hospice, a 25-bed ward with a lovely garden.  Patients come from every San Francisco neighborhood with illnesses that range from AIDS to Alzheimer’s.  Laguna Honda has received heart-felt community thanks for its Hospice care.

I started Pastoral services on Hospice in 1988. Later, interfaith Chaplains were hired as Spiritual Care Coordinators to provide broader and more consistent support.  I was shocked when our valued Hospice Chaplain who earns a mere $26,000 yearly, got a layoff notice for July 1st!  This amounts to 0.01% of the hospital’s budget for 1,500 employees, only 6 of whom were laid off. Of all the cutbacks, cutting the Hospice Chaplain is the worst.  Compared to the hospital’s expenses for remodeling offices and conference rooms, it’s a pittance.  Such small savings have big emotional costs.  We have no substitute for this unique job.  Now, dying patients, their families and friends face needless distress and spiritual isolation.

Doctors have acknowledged the role that spiritual support has on physical health and well-being.  Pastoral or spiritual support is crucial to help our patients and loved ones cope with death and dying.  Hospice without spiritual services is wrong.  This is especially true at Laguna Honda where spiritual needs are enormous but resources are limited.  Many here are burdened with disabling illness, poverty and broken relationships.  We try very hard to give them spiritual support at this time of their lives.  From experience we have learned that dying patients need someone there as they approach the end of life, especially the elderly.  And, that each death affects the entire community.

We have volunteer Chaplains, but the time they can spend with patients is limited.  Counseling grieving relatives, and arranging for Memorial Services for 100 bereaved families a year is just part of the job of the Spiritual Care Coordinator.  The heart of it is regularly visiting the dying, and staying with them through trials and sorrows, and supporting their faith.  Without these services, there will be more suffering and grief. More will die in crisis.

Because the need is so great on Hospice, a full-time Chaplain must be available.  Community support is urgently needed.  If you would like to help the dying at Laguna Honda please contact Sister Miriam Walsh 415-292-3471 or John Farrell (Pastoral Care Volunteer LHH) 415-218-6337.

Sister Miriam Walsh
Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart
Laguna Honda Hospital Pastoral Care Director

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