S.O.N. Adds Spiritual Aspect To Program

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

The School of Nursing has launched a project to treat the spiritual, as well as physical, needs of homeless men at the Pine Street Inn.

Through the Expanded Care for Healthy Outcomes Project, a divinity school minister will join nursing instructors and students in tending to clinic patients at the South End shelter.

"Care for the spiritual side of people has always been important in nursing, but we've never taught it formally," said Asst. Prof. Barbara Brush (SON), who is leading the project. "We're aiming for that 'holistic' approach that we talk about, but never do."

ECHO, funded by grants from the Teagle Foundation and the Helene Fuld Trust, was launched this month at a nurse-managed clinic at Pine Street's Anchor Inn, a transitional housing center for homeless men recovering from substance addiction. The project's interdisciplinary staff includes Rev. Fran Bogle, a Congregational minister on the faculty of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, and nurse practitioners Patricia Daly and Bonnie Cavanaugh, who studied under Brush. They will work with the Pine Street Inn's health services director, Eileen McGee, an SON doctoral student.

Joining the project team in January will be eight graduate students from the SON Family Nurse Practitioner program, who are currently taking seminars on spiritual assessment in nursing.

Patients being treated under the project undergo "spiritual assessments," Brush said, in which they are asked about the place of prayer, meditation or other forms of spiritual practice or belief in their lives. Brush said the aim is not to gauge specific religious practice, but to ascertain the patient's sense of "inner self - who he is and how he relates to the world."

A patient may then be directed to a spiritual advisor if he requests it, Brush said, as was the case with one man who was severely affected by the death of his child.

Brush said her interest in starting ECHO was sparked by the sight of death notices at Pine Street Inn, where she has been active as a volunteer nurse. "You would see a sign that said 'Joe X died today,'" she recalled. "I wondered, 'Do they have a memorial service?'

"I think Pine Street is a very spiritual place," she continued. "They deal with those issues, but never in a formal way."

Brush said she also was interested in how the men in the clinic, who lived on the streets before seeking help for their addictions, made the decision to recover.

"Someday you must wake up and say, 'This is really awful,'" she said. "What drives the inner change?"

Because the recovering addicts at the clinic are involved in 12-step programs that have a distinct spiritual element, Brush said the patients are more apt to be comfortable discussing their own spirituality.

She said the patients she has interviewed so far have responded well to the approach. "I'd say most feel spirituality means a great deal," said Brush.

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