Soul’s Phoenix

This post has been redacted and censored to comply with my employer’s Social Media Policy effective Nov. 1, 2010.  This action appears the only recourse I have to preserve my Constitutional rights to free speech and free expression of my views on Extreme Thinkover.

In my post on March 12 I shared a letter that I had sent to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) chair of the U.S. Senate’s Finance Committee and champion of health care reform, regarding the closing of the Clinical Pastoral Education Program at Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is the national clinical ministry program that trains chaplains for hospitals, the military, prisons, hospice and other institutions.  Accreditation is difficult to obtain.  The standards for education are high, and the accountability is thorough.  CPE programs nationwide face similar uncertainty as the disaster in the economy collides with the disaster that is the American health care system.

Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy CPE program was a victim of that collision.

But sometimes very smart people with a driving sense of mission can find creative solutions.

And, this time, that sometime happened.

There’s a qualifier.  The reason the program was cut is that Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy, faced with an economy so bad our budget deficit is projected at $17 million, as well as, likely unprecedented uncompensated care expenses that could easily hit $70 million, has been forced to make acute action cutting staff and programs.  Colleagues we have worked with for years.  Programs that promote healing and compassionate care that have to be cut way back or eliminated.

The unemployment rate in Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy County where our hospital is located hit 12% percent in February, and Douglas County, just to the south of us, hit 18%.

So, nothing has changed.

Except the creativity and dedication of some very smart people (I commend them; I wasn’t directly involved).  After the initial decision was made, one key fact kept nagging at the Administration.  CPE had become so integrated into the spiritual care services provided daily by we who are chaplains, and was such a proven asset to our mission and care of patients, we just could not cut it off.  They rolled up their sleeves and went back to the drawing board.  They were able to save the program and meet the needed financial savings.

CPE will continue at Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy.  Changes had to made, of course.  Our program will now be be shifted to what is called “extended units” rather than full time, 20 hours per week rather than 40.  Three or four students, not our current six.  We still lose two of our close colleagues.

And guard against the inevitable organizational hazard of a hyena or two, stalking, plotting and hoping for failure and a meal.

These are the consequences of the economic trauma, inside and outside the organization.

We are not terminal.  Our CPE program and the fine people who comprise it will regain strength, providing a superior clinical education just as we have for the past six years.  And, too, we will plan to return to a full-time program as soon as the hospital can support it.

In the meantime, our mission as chaplains is to provide spiritual support and care to the patients who come through our doors.  We have work to do.

Amputating the Soul

This post has been redacted and censored to comply with my employer’s Social Media Policy as of Nov. 1, 2010.  All references to my place of work and the system it is part of, as well as photos have been removed.  This action appears to be only recourse I have to preserve my Constitutional rights to free speech and the free expression of my views on Extreme Thinkover.

A letter I sent to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chair of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee and advocate for universal health care.  His health care plan is available by clicking on the header “Call to Action” above.

Dear Sen. Baucus,

This week the Clinical Pastoral Education Center at Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy fell victim to the economic recession.  CPE centers nationwide, accredited by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) are the training sites for chaplains for hospitals, the military, prisons, hospices, and other institutions.  ACPE certification (which includes the Association of Professional Chaplains, National Association of Catholic Chaplains, National Association of Jewish Chaplains, as well) is almost universally required for employment for these important ministries.

ACPE accreditation is not easy to get.  In fact, the state of Montana does not have a certified CPE training site at this time.

I was part of the team beginning in 2001 that worked for over two years to get Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy accepted as a CPE training site.  We began our program six years ago.  The first two years we were on probation, but were then granted full accreditation in 2005.

Our center quickly became recognized as the new place to train.  The past two years we have been able to be selective, turning away more applicants than our program could handle (which is six students per unit), and even had international students work in the program.  We had applicants already applying for the 2010-2011 school year.

On Monday (March 9) our administration announced, along with other major cuts, that the CPE program would be eliminated.  As of now, our budgetary shortfall stands at $17-20 million for FY09.  Our uncompensated care last year (FY08) was $66 million.  We are over $1.4 million ahead of that pace as of the end of February.

Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy. County’s unemployment rate hit 12% this month (Monaco RV was one of our major industries).  South of us, Douglas County is reportedly pushing 16% unemployment.  Tens of thousands of newly unemployed people no longer have any health insurance.  Only a tiny fraction will have the resources to afford COBRA.

Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy in southwest Oregon south to the California border are making huge cuts in staff and programs. (Portland’s situation is somewhat better, but deteriorating, e.g. Oregon Health and Sciences University is making draconian cuts to survive).

Every day, hundreds of newly unemployed, now newly uninsured Oregonians face the frightening reality of trying to access America’s terminally ill health care “system.”  Just like Montana.  Just like, well, everywhere in America.

They’ll come to us.  We’ll treat them.  Everyone who comes through our door.  But what will our uncompensated care come to this year?  $80 million?  $100 million?

And as for CPE?  Well, Medicare classifies it as “overhead.”  That’s good news, in one respect, because Medicare reimburses the hospital for each Chaplain intern based on the percentage of Medicare patients we treat as in-patients, which in our case was about 40%.  But it wasn’t enough.  We are losing three staff members, as well as the six students that worked daily with us ministering to patients on their assigned medical units.

But, when hospitals face making the most painful cuts, programs like CPE are vulnerable.  The unintended consequences are placed on the furthest burner back.  We are at war.  One of our staff chaplains just went back on to active duty.  We not only cannot replace him, we cannot train someone who might replace him.  There is a tipping point here.  Here at Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy we just crossed it.  We aren’t the first hospital to face that, nor will we be the last.

Let me share something about what hospital chaplains do.  We don’t wander about the halls patting hands and saying little prayers.  We step into the shadows with our patients, those places of their darkest fears, the thin fabric of their lives, where the veil between life and death is almost transparent.  And when that veil tears, we stand in that darkness holding a light.  A light for the dying so they know they are not alone.  A light for the living to guide them on the new path they must walk.  That is spiritual care.

Calling.  Passion.  Training.  This is what chaplains are in the hospitals, the armed forces, the prisons, hospices.

And now there is one less place to train.

I remember learning in school that justice delayed is justice denied.  I now believe, too, the right to health care delayed or barred by preconditions is the right to health care denied.

Please, Senator.  We need your health care plan.  Now.

Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy
–CPE: Our Light Diminished.

This Photo is dedicated to all the staff and students who made Clinical Pastoral Education at Sacred Heart Medical Center the truest part of our mission of healing and compassionate care.  Our Light is diminished. May the Divine brighten yours!

This Photo is dedicated to all the staff and students who made Clinical Pastoral Education at Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy the truest part of our mission of healing and compassionate care. Our Light is diminished. May the Divine brighten yours!