Pact formalizes chaplains' access in Alta. health care institutions

Bishop David Motiuk, Vickie Kaminski, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, and Archbishop Richard Smith sign an access agreement that clarifies the roles and responsibilities of appointed Catholic clergy in Alberta Health Services facilities across the province.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Bishop David Motiuk, Vickie Kaminski, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, and Archbishop Richard Smith sign an access agreement that clarifies the roles and responsibilities of appointed Catholic clergy in Alberta Health Services facilities across the province.

December 29, 2014
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Catholic chaplains have been formally recognized as an integral part of the Alberta health care system.

That recognition was solidified when the Catholic Bishops of Alberta and Alberta Health Services (AHS) signed an access agreement that clarifies the roles and responsibilities of appointed Catholic clergy in Alberta Health Services facilities across the province.

The first two agreements were signed Dec. 11 by Vickie Kaminski, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith and Ukrainian Bishop David Motiuk.

The remaining three agreements will be signed later by Bishops Frederick Henry of Calgary, Paul Terrio of St. Paul and Gerard Pettipas of Grouard McLennan. All five are expected to be in effect on Jan. 5, 2015.

Health Minister Stephen Mandel witnessed the signing of the first two agreements at the Robbins Chapel in the Lois Hole Hospital for Women.

Teresa Kellendonk, the archdiocese's head of pastoral and parish services, said the agreement gives chaplains appointed by the archdiocese access to Catholic patients in all AHS facilities. She said there was never lack of access but the agreement makes it explicit.

Kellendonk said the agreement "won't change how we deliver and provide our services in terms of pastoral care but in a way affirms the relationship between the chaplains and the spiritual care departments and AHS as a whole."

Catholic chaplains are priests, religious or professionally trained lay people appointed by their bishop to serve Catholic patients in hospitals. Their ministry includes praying with patients, spiritual counselling, bringing Communion and ensuring patients receive the sacraments.

The archdiocese has chaplains in all major hospitals.

FORMALIZED ARRANGEMENT

"We've been there and are very grateful for that informal acceptance of our Catholic chaplains team, but we felt now it is the time to formalize that arrangement," Kellendonk said.

Sister Pilar Valdes, a chaplain at the U of A Hospital for five years, was elated, saying the agreement opens many doors for the four Catholic chaplains there.

Valdes said as well as guaranteeing access to patients, the agreement gives chaplains access to computers, office space, training and other things that so far only staff chaplains can access.

"For us, this is a big, big thing," Valdes said. "We can access many things, even office space. We don't have office space. We just have a little corner where we (gather)."

Kaminski, president and CEO of AHS, said the pact "helps formalize something that has been rather informal" between AHS and the Catholic bishops.

"At first glance this agreement appears to deal with spiritual care but is much more than that; it's about providing the very best possible care to our patients," she said.

SPIRITUAL CARE

Archbishop Smith described the signing of the agreement as "a significant moment for the Church in our relationship with the AHS and our desire to continue to provide good spiritual care to the people who need it."

In an interview, Smith said there has always been collaboration between provincial health authorities and the Church. But an access agreement was necessary to ensure good governance and to solidify collaboration.

"It's always good to have things clarified and on paper so people have a clear understanding of what they do and what the expectations are," Smith said.

Bishop Motiuk said the access agreement does two things.

"We are formally recognizing an agreement whereby our lay, religious and clergy chaplains can provide spiritual care to those who are in need but also I think it's a form of recognition from the province of Alberta of the trinity of mind, body and spirit.

"It's accepting and appreciating this wholeness in our approach for providing care to the whole person and the whole body."