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Hospital chaplaincy co-ordinator interviewed

By Blake Sittler


SASKATOON — Jacqueline Saretsky is the new hospital chaplaincy co-ordinator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon. She replaces Céline Hudon, who retired in December.

Funded by the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, the diocesan hospital chaplaincy program includes Saretsky as co-ordinator, working with priest chaplain Rev. Rhéal Bussière and some 30 volunteers who provide Catholic spiritual care and pastoral visits at Royal University and Saskatoon City Hospitals.

Saretsky grew up in Burr, Sask., south of Humboldt. She was born into a close German Catholic family of seven children. She has been involved in various types of hospital work and ministry for most of her life. Some of the roots of her calling were planted as a child; her mother was a nurse.

Saretsky was trained at Kelsey Campus in Saskatoon, now known as Saskatchewan Polytechnic. As a nurse, her first placement was in St. Elizabeth’s in Humboldt. She later went on to become an emergency medical technician.

Saretsky believes that her formation as a nurse and EMT, as well as her experience and training as a therapeutic recreation technician, gives her an appreciation of the many sides of hospital work.

She completed her first unit of clinical pastoral education (CPE) in 2002 and has completed three units to date. She started at Saskatoon’s St. Paul’s Hospital in 2009.

“If I didn’t have CPE I’d be floundering,” she said. “CPE isn’t about hospital visiting, it is about self-formation so before you can sit at the bedside of a patient you have to know all the things about yourself, the good and those things that set us back, so you can better deal with patients.”

She explained that the best spiritual care visitors are people who have been wounded and have healed. “That awareness (of suffering) is always there.”

What Saretsky likes about hospital chaplaincy is the direct contact with patients.

“I like the time to sit at the bedside,” she explained, “to take the time to hear their stories.”

Hospital chaplaincy is more than visiting patients. There are a number of other needs including advocating for patients, recruitment, training and caring for volunteers, and expanding the ministry into parishes.

“(When you are with a patient) you hear hurts and struggles, and if they have no family support, you have to take those concerns up the line to someone who can do something,” Saretsky clarified. “This is difficult sometimes because it means going to a nurse or doctor and helping the patient to manage their own physical and medical condition.”

When asked about her role in terms of the whole care team of an individual patient, she noted that the professional relationship is still evolving. She sees chaplains as a resource that could be used more often.

“I see myself being called more often when a patient is in crisis,” she said. “When a patient is in the hospital there is a lot of emotion, and I’d like to see chaplains being accessed for those moments when nurses and doctors are busy with the more pressing physical needs.”

The role of hospital chaplaincy co-ordinator is focused around Saskatoon City Hospital and Royal University Hospital, but in the upcoming year Saretsky hopes to start making inroads into parishes to invite more ministry to the hospital.

“I’d like to offer more education concerning patient experience in the hospital,” she said. “We need a greater understanding of what we are going to see in the hospitals as the population is aging.”

The aging population and increased pressure on hospitals is a common story in the media. Some see it as a crisis. Some see it as an area of growth.

“There is going to be a greater need for parishioner involvement in the lives of these people who have nowhere to go,” she said. “Our hospitals are full.”

“We need the volunteers, the ones who have a heart for this ministry. You learn as you volunteer and grow as you go along.”

Saretsky noted that with physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia becoming legal in Canada, the need to inform Catholics about the health care consequences is a new challenge.

“We need to inform people about compassionate terminal care and palliative care -what it means, what it entails. To me it is promotion and advocating for these things.”

Saretsky would like to see the church promote visiting the sick more often and to give people the tools to visit their loved ones courageously.

Most families are afraid to engage in those critical conversations about end of life, she noted. “My advice would be, ‘Go visit them.’ They might think they are doing them a favour by not bringing up difficult conversations, but in reality they are already there, and they want to talk about it.

“Don’t be afraid to ask the big questions: the death questions, the end of life conversations,” she urged. “The patients aren’t afraid of those conversations, they want them.”

“As a chaplain, death isn’t a failure,” she said. “It is a success if you’ve helped them journey well.”

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