Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 23, 2004
Adopt a global health care vision
Newfoundland nun calls for greater attention to the Spirit's voice
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Cultural changes in Canada the past 40 years have far outpaced the capacity of the health care system, says Sister Elizabeth Davis, a member of the Sisters of Mercy from St. John's, Nfld.
As the keynote speaker for Alberta Catholic Health Corporation's Feb. 11-12 leadership conference, Davis suggested the remedy lay not solely in government funding, but in the awareness that diseases today can achieve global proportions.
"The intensity of change in the health care system leaves Canadians virtually helpless. As soon as the SARS virus was brought under control, a chicken died in China with a threat of killing one-third of the world's population within a year," Davis said.
"We have actually learned that the kind of world we live in, with the changes that will become even more intense as the world becomes smaller, the only hope we have is doing it together."
Davis was speaking to more than 30 Catholic health care administrators from across the province regarding the types of responses needed during a difficult time and the prophetic ministry they can bring to a world so in need of healing.
Davis believes health care providers must now greatly increase their scope when viewing illness and injury.
"As leaders in Catholic health care in a changing world, we are called to create an environment in which vision and relationships become the means to tend the flame of mission," she said.
Davis is currently a member of the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, the Medical Council of Canada and National Board of Medical Examiners of the United States.
It is imperative that health care providers step out and see a bigger picture because it is shifting under their feet, she said. Sociologists believe we are in an age that is seeing social change happen more quickly than at any other time in history.
"We are in the people business and in Canada, we are seeing incredible shifts. Our system has not been nimble enough to respond to those shifts," Davis said.
"When I was born, Canada was a very young country. There were a lot of people under 15 and very few people more than 65. But the Canada today is much older where very few people are under 15 and a lot of people over 65.
And we are seeing lowering birth rates."
The Canada known by baby boomers is fairly affluent. Many people have only known more and more which makes it difficult to be constrained, she said. The result of living beyond our means for so many years is deficit financing and incredible debt loads.
"Canada was created as a country that had its roots in small - small farms, small villages and small fishing outports. We are moving further away from that time. And Paul Martin's first budget as prime minister talks about an urban agenda. It is the aging, rural Canada that we have no idea how to deal with," she said.
In addition to the social change and organizational trauma, Catholic health care is also part of the Church.
Changing Church power
"There was a time when the bishops of Canada spoke, everyone listened. But that time has passed. The credibility and the power that the Church had in Canada is gone. We are living in a different time with questioning and valuing anyone in authority and leadership.
"But there are good things too because 40 years ago, I could not have stood here and said anyone involved in ministry without meaning a priest. We did not mean lay people or women," she said.
The Church is also facing declining numbers in a congregation and an increasing age. There is a shifting away from the direct involvement of the Church witnessed by the closure of religious-owned facilities.
"Health care in Canada is witnessing a major shift to regional governments and management," Davis said.
"It means different things to different regions of the country, but it is a movement that is becoming more intense."
Baby boomers, for example, are used to doing and having things their own way.
So how does a person shed his own sense of space and personal power for the greater good?
Through spirituality, says Davis.
"Equally as dramatic today are the positive changes. We are seeing a greater understanding of spirituality."
As a young sister in Newfoundland, Davis said spirituality meant being alone in her room, or alone on the beach, praying. Now, spirituality is the name we give to that which provides us with the strength to go on, for it is the assurance that God is in the struggle.
There is no promise that the struggle will be removed. Spirituality spells out our connection to God, to our human roots and to the rest of nature; to one another and to ourselves.
"Forty years ago after Vatican II, the Church taught that the time to stand apart has gone. We can only know the joy and hope, the grief and the anguish of the people around us if we are one with them," Davis said.
Signs of hope in the Church include a greater attention to the voice of the Spirit through acceptance of charisms and the promotion of the laity, a deeper commitment to the cause of Christian unity and the increased interest in dialogue with other religions and with contemporary culture.
"I find that most fascinating. Again, we do not have the luxury of being a people apart. That time has gone."
What is health?
As the definition of spirituality has come into a new place, so too has the understanding of health. There was a time that health was the absence of illness or injury and the health system was based on that definition where available funds were put into hospitals to help the sick and injured.
But now, according to the World Health Organization, health is looked at as a state of complete physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being; as a resource for everyday living.
"We are seeing that health is more than the health of persons. We are starting to understand what was always so: health has to do with families, with communities and with the people of the earth," Davis said.
"When a person is sick, it affects the entire family, as a minimum."