On October 17th, 2021 Kerry Baisley preached on the topic of healthcare and reconciliation. Kerry has worked in healthcare for many years and is also the Missioner for Indigenous Justice for the Diocese of New Westminster.
You can view the sermon video here (starting at the 26:00 mark): https://www.stclementschurch.ca/livestreams/81
In the name of our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.
I will begin by thanking Helen to the opportunity to be with you today. I will try to weave two perspectives together today, the first perspective from 30 years or so in health care and social work and the second perspective from the past twelve months working in the Diocese as Missioner of Indigenous Justice.
Today we are observing the feast day of St Luke. Saint Luke is the Patron Saint of an interesting collection of people: Artists – because he was said to be an artist, in the Eastern Church Luke is believed to be the original iconographer. He is also the patron saint of Physicians - Luke is reported to have been a Greek physician. Being Patron saint of Artists and Physicians makes sense. You may be surprised to discover Luke is also the Patron Saint of Bachelors, Surgeons, Students and Butchers. I will leave it to your religious imagination to figure out those connections. We call him Luke the Evangelist, and rightly so, as the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are attributed to him.
As I said earlier, I will try to weave together the two worlds of Health Care and Reconciliation. My mother was an Operating Room Supervisor in Manitoba and Powell River so I can say health care runs in the family. Our Canadian health care system has seen incredible changes in the span of my mother’s working life and mine. When my mother started nursing it was seen as a profession focussed primarily on front line care. Careers in Health Care Administration or Teaching were few and far between.
In my working life there has been a tremendous increase in technology and treatments and the people needed to administer them. Health care has shifted into an industry that must be responsive to global pandemics and international supply chain fluctuations. Difficulties getting Personal Protective Equipment or PPE’s is clear evidence of that reality. My last twelve years in health care were in Risk Management, and the last sixteen months included work with Lynn Valley Care Center in the early stages of COVID 19. I say this not as a boast of being someone on the “front line,” but rather to explain my perspective as we explore some of the challenges and issues we have experienced both in our health care system and the continuing COVID Pandemic.
If I had written this sermon three months earlier many of us may have nodded our heads in agreement when portions of Sirach were being read this morning such as
Honour physicians for their services,
The skill of physicians makes them distinguished.
Here we have written proof that the Near Eastern/Western world has recognized the work of physicians for at least 2, 200 years. I can only conclude that the mid wives were not included because the book was likely written by a couple of males. The health care team has changed a lot since those times but our focus on who the leaders are has changed little over the years. Accolades in the early days of COVID 19 usually started with thanks to the “doctors and nurses.” They were usually identified as those at the start of the line of front line workers.
There is no argument that many nurses and doctors do great and wonderful things AND it is a big AND they could not do their jobs without the assistance of Care Aids, Cleaning Staff, Technicians who run the diagnostic equipment, Pharmacists who organize and create medications and live with workplace risks when preparing chemotherapy treatments. And so many others.
If you think of the Health Care system as an Iceberg, the Doctors and Nurses may be seen working on the portion visible above the water, but they are only able to do their work because a system of people holding them up, doing work that goes mostly unseen and frequently unrecognized.
At the beginning of COVID 19, iIn March 2020 we didn’t know what we were dealing with, but we worked together to develop a common plan. As the Pandemic has continued we find ourselves in a confusing time. The Delta variant has made the race to get this virus under control into a marathon, and vaccination resistance/refusals have developed both in communities and among health care providers creating a “them” and “us” division that wasn’t present in the beginning.
Today a number of us may have nodded when you heard a different excerpt from Sirach:
The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and the sensible will not despise them.
I am not taking sides or pointing fingers but setting the background for some of my observations regarding Health Care. Some people have asked me “What was the biggest problem you had in your job?”
They may be expecting the details of a complex and difficult situation but the answer is just one word: COMMUNICATION
Health care providers may be technically expert in procedures, but not always great communicators. The importance of Communication was taught to me by one of our Extended Care residents. Bob, had been a pilot for Qantas the ethnic mix of our caregiving staff was similar to the people he encountered in his flying career, so he concluded he was still working for Qantas. He waved me over to his table and then whispered, “I need to tell you something,”
“Not all your staff have been trained in the hospitality industry”
He was absolutely correct. Clear Communication and problem solving with a smile would have eliminated a third of the complaints that came to my attention. Bob’s comment leads us to our second component of health care, and that is CARING.
A palliative care physician once told me this story: Two medical residents came to the physician frustrated that an elderly patient with a progressing and life threatening medical condition was quote unquote “demanding” cardiac resuscitation. The Residents tried but they could not convince the patient to agree to a “DNR” order. The Physician sat down on the patient’s bed, looked the patient in the eye and asked, “when you have died do you want us to try to bring you back?”
The answer was a straight forward, “No.”
The physician then told the patient the Residents were trying to discuss the same issue but at that time the patient was saying she did want cardiac resuscitation. The patient’s response, ”I said I wanted it because I didn’t think they cared.”
The Patient felt they didn’t care because the conversation was based on what they health care providers WOULD NOT be providing, rather than what they were planning to do for to care for her. That patient taught me that we should always communicate and focus on what health care providers are doing, rather than what we are NOT doing. That is how we show we CARE. For the rest of my career I told staff they need to describe a plan of care from “the ground up” rather than from the “top down.” It can seem simple, even self evident, but when a health care provider is in a rush they are tempted to “cut to the chase” and ask someone to “sign a DNR form” rather than have a conversation.
While the health care provider does not mean it, many family members experience such incidents as being Disrespectful. Our Western based health care system is focussed on Cure. And this in itself is not a bad thing, but it is a dangerous thing when our energy and our money become solely focussed on CURE. We all need to broaden our perspectives to see CARING as equal in valuable to CURING. That caring can go a long way. It can include those who need support and care for conditions that are not curable like Memory loss and diseases that cause continuing and unrelenting deterioration such as MS, Parkinson’s and ALS to name a few.
What would it be like it our governments and society showed the same Respect and support for Long Term Care Facilities as they have for Maternity Units, Emergency Departments and Intensive Care Wards? RESPECT
A story about Respect: In 2017 I attended some of the Canada 150 events in Vancouver. One of those events was a class making moccasins for little children. While making the moccasins a formally dressed Indigenous lady approached the table and started asking our teacher a bunch of questions about what she was doing.
It felt like things were getting a little heated, and then the both started laughing. They were sisters and our visitor came to check in on how things were going. We got talking, as one does if you want to get to know people, she said my stitching, which I was trying to do as evenly as I could “looks like a sewing machine.”
I wasn’t sure how to take the comment, all doubt was removed as she smiled and said “you need to loosen up.”
I said she looked very nice today and she responded saying she was going to see her grandson in the hospital. She said he was recovering from an overdose. She then said she always wears her best clothes to the hospital so the staff will treat her respectfully. Others had told me similar stories that the older ladies of the community and others always wore their best clothes to the hospital to be treated by hospital staff in a way that so many of us take for granted.
When Respect deteriorates it can lead to attitudes that become prejudiced and ultimately racist.
Joyce Echaquan, an Indigenous 37 year old mother of seven died on September 28, 2020 after using her video phone to record health care workers taunting her. A reporter asked Quebec Coroner Géhane Kamel, “Would Joyce Echaquan still be alive if she were white?"
"I think so," Kamel replied.
So “where do we go from here?”
We are not without Hope, if all parties involved in Health Care: Patients/Residents/Family Members/Friends and Direct Health Care Providers and those Supporting that work could become conscious of how everyone can work together by focussing on Communication, Care and Respect could do much to provide a safe environment for everyone involved in the challenging situations that end up being resolved in our Health Care Facilities. I have found those skills, Communication, Care, and Respect to be equally helpful in the work I have done in Reconciliation.
When it comes to work in Truth and Reconciliation, the most frequent question I hear is, “what can we do?”
If you haven’t done so already, watch the Anglican Church of Canada’s video “Doctrine of Discovery – Stolen Lands, Strong Hearts”. The Doctrine of Discovery is the legal fiction that forms the basis of our existing land title system. Spoiler Alert: At the end of the Doctrine of Discovery video Martin Brokenleg talks about Land Claim Acknowledgments at the beginning of every church service at Christ Church Cathedral Victoria. He says some people feel it is repetitious and unnecessary but he suggests we can see these acknowledgements in another way. He says they are a drip of water on stone saying the Doctrine of Discovery isn’t right. Land Acknowledgements are a sign of Respect for both the Land itself and the People who have lived on it for thousands of years.
When you think about it, Communication and Caring are more about BEING than they are about DOING. When you see one of our Politicians making an apology on television, pick any one you want, there is no shortage of them, you can tell if they truly mean what they are saying. Communication and Caring are about BEING not about DOING.
And you will be relieved to know that brings us to our final story. Dennis Joseph and I have known each other for about 2 years or so. Dennis is from the Squamish Nation and lives literally down the Road. We met at Granville Island when Dennis and his wife Lorna were sitting with Dennis’s brother Buddy and his wife Chief Janice George in the space once occupied by the BC Pottery Guild. They had carvings and weaving temporarily showing in the space. I had taken a Salish weaving course at the Museum of Vancouver with Buddy and Janice so we reintroduced ourselves. We started talking and I asked them if they would like a tea or coffee. They said yes. We sat down and had a conversation.
Reconciliation is as simple as that, take a risk and starting a conversation.
It begins with COMMUNICATION. I don’t remember how we got there, but at one point Chief Janice George spoke about being frustrated over how some focus on the past. She told us she wanted people to know about how Resilient the Squamish Nation, and other Indigenous Peoples were. She felt people did not recognize the power of Indigenous people to be resilient in spite of the actions taken against them. Seeing Resilience in Indigenous People creates Respect for them, seeing them as powerful and not victims of the past.
That Resilience was taught to me when I asked Dennis to come speak about Reconciliation at September’s Diocesan Council Retreat. Dennis told us that he was now almost fully recovered from a stroke he had had four years earlier. As a health care provider I knew that singing was one of the therapies for people who had their speech affected by a stroke. The Health care provider perspective is that singing and speech use different parts of the brain. The therapy is to use singing to help improve speech. It is quite something to see if you have not experienced it before. Dennis taught us all a completely other way to see it. He told us he was taught by his grandmother to in his words “Sing into the trauma.”
He was told to use song to deal with what had happened to both him individually and to the Squamish Nation over time. He used singing as a way of praying and strengthening himself from the trauma of the stroke. He told me later that there is always a drum on the altar at St Paul’s Indian Church on the North Shore. It is so people can sing if they feel empowered to do so.
Think about Dennis’s words, “Sing into the Trauma”
And hear again the words of Isaiah we heard earlier:
Good news to the poor, Release to the Captives, Recovery of Sight to the Blind, And letting the oppressed go Free.
And know the Captive, Poor, Blind and Oppressed people are not the Indigenous People. They are us.
The work of Reconciliation, coming from a Caring Place, based on open Communication and being Respect-full in the midst of difficult conversations is our Road to take. Travelling that road will Free all of us to live and work together as true equals and the journey will bring us all closer to God’s Jubilee.