The end of life’s journey can be many things. It is often a time of sorrow but it is also a time to celebrate the passage of a loved one into eternal life and remember a life well lived. Creating an environment where the ill and dying feel loved, worthy and cared for is the effort of a new initiative jointly developed by the Catholic Bishops of California and the state’s Catholic health care systems.
Known as the Whole Person Care Initiative, the partnership has already started building capacity among diocese, parishes and Catholic health care ministries by offering training, promoting successful ministries and raising the standards of palliative care in Catholic hospitals and health care ministries. The Initiative will also encourage people to discuss their desires through the end of life before they are ill and promote a thorough understanding of Catholic teachings and traditions.
Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange, Dr. Ira Byock, medical director of Providence St. Joseph’s Institute for Human Caring, and Lori Dangberg, the Alliance for Catholic Health Care are among the representatives in Rome this week participating in the Pontifical Academy of Life’s 2018 Palliative Care Congress. As members of the group developing the Initiative, the three are explaining the concept to medical and other specialists from around the world. Interest in the goals and vision of the effort is widespread.
Whole Person Care attends to people in their basic human needs, strives to optimize health, alleviate suffering, bring comfort, prevent injury and illness, and foster physical, functional, emotional, social, interpersonal, and spiritual well-being.
The concept is applicable throughout the course of life, not just at the end. Collaborative efforts between health care, social services, congregations, and communities in the context of an individual’s family and home environment is central to the vision of Whole Person Care.
The Initiative will support ministries in our parishes and Catholic health care to help people understand the medical care they should demand at the end of life and what spiritual resources and support they can expect from their faith community. In addition to the Sacraments, the Church already has built-in “communities of care” within our parishes. The Initiative will promote these ministries and make available practical resources and tools for both existing and new ministries.
For instance, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has developed a program called “Care and Prepare: Finding Loving Care at the End of Life.” It is a series of parish workshops on advance care planning, accessing quality palliative care, pastoral care at end of life and more. Care and Prepare trains parish leaders in partnership with theologians and experts from Catholic-affiliated hospitals.
In the clinical setting, the Initiative is about how to improve care and reduce the cost of health care, even as it provides better quality care for the terminally ill and their families. Health ministries will do that by expanding and improving palliative and whole person care services. This will include developing clinical and quality standards from the more than fifty Catholic-affiliated hospitals in California.
Importantly, both in the clinical and parish settings, resources for caregivers and loved ones accompanying people through their illness and death will also be developed and promoted.
Dioceses throughout California have already assembled teams to promote Whole Person Care within their ministries and parishes. Teaming with Catholic health ministries across the state has been a large part of those diocesan efforts and will expand over the course of the Initiative.