Their story is our story.

More than medicine

The little boy had undergone an ostomy, the sectioning of his bowel. He had been fitted with a colostomy bag as a result. But he would neither accept nor maintain the device now attached to his body.

The procedure had solved his immediate medical problem, but the cost was an emotional wound.

“The boy wouldn’t touch it, or even look at it,” said Nancy Moore, RN, senior vice president of clinical and healing services at St. Charles. Nurse Patty Riley knew the boy needed more than medicine. She sat down to talk with him and used a few skills they don’t always teach in nursing school.

“They just played with balloons and made little animals,” Moore said. “Patty talked until he would talk, then she taught him how to take care of the bag.”

It was an example of healing health care, a philosophy that underpins all that St. Charles does. The approach assumes everything in the environment has an effect on healing. Very little is simply neutral. It either enhances or impairs the healing process.

“The ethic of the philosophy is healing ourselves, our relationships, our communities,” Moore said. “Its essence is that it starts with us, the caregivers. “We’re a human service, we’re people helping people; we don’t make hot dogs or automobiles.”

The philosophy took root at St. Charles in the early 1990s. St. Charles was undergoing rapid growth in services and an internal reorganization. The medical center already had a reputation for good doctors and state-of-the-art health care. But President and CEO Jim Lussier wanted to flatten the management structure—empower people at the patient-care level to make it a better organization for patients and employees alike.

Part of this reorganization was to figure out how the hospital could continue to grow without losing its heart—the mission of caring for patients as individuals and not room numbers—that the sisters of St. Joseph had set about so many years earlier.

“I think in some organizations restructuring didn’t go that way. I think our emphasis on our mission helped us not become a lean, mean machine,” Moore said.

The philosophy was not new, especially at St. Charles. There’s a story about Sister Catherine helping a little boy smuggle a puppy into his grandfather’s room long ago. The very architecture of the medical center, right down to the large windows, was designed to take advantage of the scenic views to patient patients more comfortable.

But it became a policy in the 1990s. Long meetings and staff training sessions were devoted to it. Even then, not everyone got it.

“When it first started it was a project,” Moore said. “One time a nurse paged me and asked if I could come do health care. That led to a decision to make it part of a strategy, part of the hospital’s culture, not just something you do.”

The philosophy manifests itself in everything: how staff talk to patients, 24-hour room service, the music and programming available on television, art on the walls and landscaping. There’s a pediatric nurse who have to clown college. There is spiritual counseling for those who want it.

It all echoes the beliefs that Sister Catherine Hellmann elucidated in an interview in the late 1990s.

“Healing is beauty—beauty, art, music—and so we’re concentrated on that. That’s why we built here, because of the mountain views,” she said. “That’s healing.”

Date: December 7, 2017