By Sandra Lucas, MDiv, BCC, and Sister Anne Marie Diederich, OSU
Laurel Lake Retirement Community in Hudson, OH, became part of the Humility of Mary Health Partners in 1994. Soon after, members of the various departments reached out to senior adults at Keys Towers in neighboring Stow, OH. Every month a social activity was shared with the residents. It was not long before the Laurel Lake staff began to identify additional unmet needs of the residents, particularly in the area of healthcare. Sister Marie Ruegg, HM, worked with Carol Telesman, RN, BSN, MSN, to develop a program that would address these needs.
The Personal Health Partner Program was created as part of the healing mission of Laurel Lake in the broader community. Since 2000, Laurel Lake has partnered with area agencies to offer free health and wellness services to older adults and vulnerable persons living in subsidized housing communities in northeast Ohio. By promoting proper preventative care and management of chronic illnesses, the PHP Program seeks to prevent expensive hospital emergency room visits and crisis hospitalizations, and increase access to wellness services for individuals in the community.
A registered nurse works on site to assess the individual healthcare needs and to help residents make healthy lifestyle choices, supported by free wellness screenings, referrals, continuing health education, individual counseling, monitoring, and fitness programs. The goal is simple – to prevent illness, create an individualized plan for health, and empower each resident to make personal choices that support the plan every day. The service is free to all residents.
While the program was initially begun in Stow, OH, it has since expanded to include Sutliff I in Cuyahoga Falls, and the Senior Apartments in Twinsburg, so that the health and wellness needs of more than 400 senior adults can be met. Additional wellness support has been provided by Laurel Lake through the provision of regular fitness programs at each site as well as distance learning opportunities.
As the nurses at the three sites shared their concerns about residents, several needs surfaced for which they sought assistance. These included opportunities for residents to: 1) work through times of grief and loss; 2) deal with chronic pain; and 3) address problems with interpersonal relationships with peers, with residents not of their generation, as well as residents with mental disabilities, etc.
In order to extend the healing ministry of Jesus to those who were suffering various forms of spiritual pain, the Mission/Community Benefits Department at Laurel Lake developed a part-time position for a spiritual care coordinator who would assess the needs, develop programs, and provide individual and group counseling as needed at each of the three sites.
The person hired was Chaplain Amir Darr. He holds a master’s degree in bioethics from Case Western University and a master’s of divinity from Yale Divinity School. He completed a residency in Clinical Pastoral Education at the Cleveland Clinic in 2011. Mr. Darr’s particular strength in ministering to peoples of all walks of life is rooted in the fact that, although he grew up a Muslim, he is now in the process of ordination for the Disciples of Christ. He seeks to meet individuals where they are on their spiritual path, whatever particular religious expression that might take.
Chaplain Darr works closely with the nurses at each site who make referrals to him. He currently offers group sessions in meditation and guided imagery and meets one-on-one with residents to offer support and pastoral counseling. In the near future, he is planning to offer support groups for bereavement and chronic pain.
“In this setting, there is a real opportunity to develop relationships and see growth,” he said. “It can be quite different from hospital ministry where there is often a one-time encounter followed by a hope or prayer that the spiritual intervention made a lasting impact upon a person’s life outside of the facility. Here, I can help residents understand what spirituality is and offer spiritual interventions before their health is affected negatively. In this sense, I believe that a model of spiritual care interventions before hospitalization is the necessary parallel to the model of healthcare we’ll hopefully see more of in the future: an emphasis on preventative care.”
Mr. Darr works with residents to understand the value of their story. “I hear their stories and share their joys and their burdens,” he said. “I help them to consciously reflect on meaning, purpose, values, and a relationship with not only the self, but transcendence outside of self, to not only neighbor but also a higher power. My hope is to bring to them an understanding of how spirituality relates to their physical bodies and overall well-being.”
Mr. Darr is in a unique and emerging setting for spiritual care services, which are continually adapting themselves to new models of healthcare delivery. “Spiritual interventions, as taught to me in CPE, are naturally focused on persons who are already medically ill or in some situation of trauma,” he said. “This newer model will focus on wellness in individuals before they are already bodily suffering. The goal is preventative health, which must include the spiritual along with the physical.”
Anecdotally, he expounds upon the importance of these preventative measures by sharing the many encounters with residents that have ended with tangible beneficial effects for the residents’ well-being. “Already, I’ve had numerous situations with residents who have spoken with me, session after session, exploring emotional trauma going back decades. After our sessions, they’ve reported a sense of freedom from burdens, a sense of healing from wounds they’ve been suppressing for so long.”
Sandra Lucas is regional director of spiritual care for Humility of Mary Health Partners in Youngstown, OH. Sister Anne Marie Diederich is director of mission integration at Laurel Lake Retirement Community in Hudson, OH.