Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Chaplains cost little but provide much


One of the cuts that was made in the last budget was to hospital chaplains.

It has received almost no attention and barely even a question in the legislatur­e. Despite the lack of attention those cuts are a big deal because in a large part, they are an important part of how we care for each other which is part of what made Saskatchew­an so special.

A few years ago on Canada Day weekend, I developed a fever and chills. Sometime in the early morning hours, I had become delirious and my wife got me to St. Paul’s Hospital.

I didn’t know it at the time but I have what is called cellulitis. It’s a painful infection of the skin and it’s antibiotic resistant. It’s in remission now, but that day my skin was so hot in the affected area that it shocked both nurses and doctors. On that day, my body had stopped fighting the infection and it was spreading.

So I was being pumped with antibiotic­s and alternatin­g between burning up and freezing cold, the room of the emergency room was quickly filling up with patients who like me were all on waiting lists to see specialist­s.

Everyone in the room knew what was wrong with ourselves and were all chatting away. Then one of them was given some jarring news that they would need major surgery right away. Alone in a hospital with no one to talk to.

In a packed emergency ward on a long weekend with staff being run off their feet, the person who was able to talk was the hospital chaplain.

Hospital chaplains are accredited and educated by their denominati­on or faith tradition but they aren’t there to convert you. They are there to listen and to help when you don’t have anyone else to talk to or your loved one’s aren’t able to be there to help you. They provide an objective and caring perspectiv­e.

After I escaped the emergency room, I found myself on many Wednesday mornings inside the St. Paul’s Hospital ambulatory care unit. It was packed with people from all over the province with many flown into Saskatoon.

I would see and chat with both devastated and scared patients being admitted that were a long way away from home, facing serious health issues and big life changing decisions for themselves and family.

Many of them completely alone.

That is the reality of health care in Saskatchew­an.

Even though one may have supports with friends and family, we all handle stress and mortality differentl­y. Some get angry, others go into denial or withdraw. Others are overcome with grief and fear.

Personally, I prefer to joke about it. We all cope in different ways and not all of it is helpful to the situation or the person going through it.

The chaplain’s job was never to convert but be a listening ear that is removed from all of the stress, anxiety and fear. They are never high profile enough for people to protest outside of MLAs offices, but they provide an essential role in how we care for each other in Saskatchew­an.

It’s only $1.5 million a year, but they provide such an important role in doing what Saskatchew­an used to pride itself for. We took care of each other. I hope all of us are lucky and healthy enough to avoid ever needing that kind of care, but most of us will and it’s now it is gone.

Like so many of the other cuts that provided services for the most vulnerable. These aren’t the cuts of a government that sees the vulnerable as neighbours but as overhead that must be cut.

Welcome to the new Saskatchew­an. Where we can no longer afford to provide supports to the extremely sick and the dying but we can afford tax cuts for corporatio­ns.

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