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Kaiser unveils meditation room

New space reflects shift away from chapels in U.S. hospitals
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Books on Buddha, prayers printed in different languages, moveable chairs, kneeling stools, a glass prayer bowl, space for Muslim prayer rugs and a stained glass installation with a nature design fill the 180-square-foot room. As intended, it’s a hodgepodge scene. But for patients, visitors and staff of the hospital at Kaiser Roseville Medical Center, the room represents a quiet, sacred space where people of all religious backgrounds and spiritual beliefs are welcome. This meditation room also illustrates a growing recognition by health care providers throughout the United States that mind, body and spirit go hand in hand. “Healing comes in many ways and we do a great job with the physical healing, but there’s the emotional and spiritual wounds, as well,” said Kaiser Chaplain Alice Anderson. Gylnda Hardin happened upon the meditation room during its public unveiling Jan. 19. She traveled from Oakland to visit a family member receiving treatment in the hospital. As she tried reading her Bible in the patient’s room, she grew distracted by other family members conversing and noise from the television. “I love it,” Hardin said of the meditation room. “It’s beautiful and it’s very much needed.” Although Kaiser Permanente opened for public enrollment in 1945, their hospitals did not include chapels until about a decade ago. Now they have about 30 chaplains serving the northern California region. When Kaiser built the local medical center in 1998, they set aside a meditation room, tacking a sign on the door. But no one oversaw the space and the room devolved into a waiting lounge. “It felt like a conference room and wasn’t really meeting the needs of our patients,” said Keith Hoerman, director of continuity of care, during the opening ceremony. In June 2009, Connie Johnstone, former spiritual care manager for Kaiser Roseville Medical Center, grew frustrated telling people there was no spiritual sanctuary on hospital grounds. A particular family had struck Johnstone as one that could really benefit from the presence of a meditation room. She talked to her boss and got the ball rolling. “There was a pastor and a retired pastor who had a loved one in the hospital,” she said. “They had huge spiritual resources available to them. They didn’t need me to gather at the bedside with them. They needed a place to go draw on their own strength.” Everything about the meditation room is intentional. The stained glass gives people a visual object to observe. Chairs are arranged so visitors don’t sit looking at one another. The furniture is comfortable but doesn’t enable people to curl up and read a novel. The prayer bowl gives visitors something to interact with — they can leave prayer requests and spiritual care volunteers will keep these in their reflections, Johnstone said. The room feels set apart from the rest of the hospital. Most importantly, elements in the room don’t privilege one religious tradition over another. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Catholic, Baptist and Methodist churches built many hospitals, which typically incorporated chapels with crosses and pews. “It’s just not like that anymore,” Johnstone said, adding that Roseville has a big Sikh population and many Buddhist practitioners. Not to mention Muslims, including medical personnel, need a place to pray five times a day. “The person brings their own resources, their own spirituality (to the room),” Johnstone said. “We understand this is a diverse world and we don’t want to diminish any one practice or put focus on any one.” UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento made the transition to a nondenominational room recently with an “all-faith chapel.” Sutter Health’s Women’s and Children’s Center plans to open a 40-seat meditation room in 2013. Closer to home, Sutter Roseville Medical Center has boasted a meditation room since 1996 when the hospital opened, although they call it a chapel. The interfaith space has a stained glass piece and nature motif, but Sutter uses “chapel” because people recognize the term’s meaning, said Chaplain Gerald Jones. “It’s a place where anybody can come — religious or not — to feel connected with their sense of the divine,” Jones said. Even people who don’t follow an organized religion may need spiritual renewal and reprieve from the surrounding stressful situation. Prior to Kaiser’s meditation room, Anderson said intensive-care unit nurses came to her asking for a quiet place to recover from the illness and death they experience daily. Spending time in a hospital whether as a nurse, patient or visitor takes a toll. “People are facing death and serious illnesses,” Anderson said. “There are many loses every day, so they’re dealing with these great emotional stresses, as well as spiritual stress, like, ‘Can I go on? Did I deserve this?’ They’re really wrestling with God during this time.” The meditation room, she said, provides a place to seek wisdom, express fears, ask for mercy, grieve and find the strength to carry on. Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.