Photo: Felix Carroll
10 Years of Total Patient Care
As a registered nurse, Marie Romagnano was stirred by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to form Nurses for Divine Mercy, which soon developed into Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy by including doctors and other medical professionals. Through retreats and academic conferences, this Marian apostolate combines medicine, bio-medical ethics, pastoral care, and the Divine Mercy message and devotion to help healthcare professionals provide "total patient care," as Marie puts it.
On May 7-8, Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy will host its 10th Annual Medicine, Bioethics and Spirituality Conference at the College of the Holy Cross, in Worcester, Mass. In this landmark year, we caught up with Marie to discuss her ministry and the great issues in modern healthcare.
Ten years of running your conferences, what has been the biggest surprise for you?
Initially, our objective was to teach healthcare professionals how to render spiritual care for the sick, injured, and dying. While that objective continues, what we recognized after the second or third conference was that people were coming for their own personal spiritual enrichment, too. This has become an educational and spiritual support program for healthcare professionals. That's why our conference includes prayer and Holy Mass as well as two full days of training.
In other words, it's not just training them; it's also ministering to them.
Yes. The healthcare profession is one of the most stressful and emotionally grueling vocations. As such, we need God in our lives. We are the ones who see people at probably the worst time of their lives, and our work can become deeply personal and sometimes very distressing. So if we can turn to the Lord in prayer, we learn He will give us the strength we need to deal with each day, to guide our hands, to give us the right words to say to patients and their family members. As Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, says, "We are the spiritual presence of Jesus at the bedside of the sick, injured, and dying."
That's quite a responsibility.
Exactly, and our ministry is here to underscore the critical role healthcare professionals play. Over the past 10 years, we have served as a reminder that, in a world wrestling with the moral and ethical implications of medical advances, we cannot leave God out of the equation. That means that, in addition to providing the best medical care, we have to make sure they have the best spiritual care as well. All of the incredible advancements in medicine and science don't change the simple fact that spirituality can bring comfort, even healing — even redemption — for the injured, sick, and dying. Moreover, bringing this attitude to mainstream medical practices is not only advisable, it's required. The independent, not-for-profit organization, The Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies more than 15,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States, requires that spiritual assessments be made of patients. That means we must ask what type of spiritual/religious support the patient desires; is there a role of church/synagogue in the patient's life; how does their faith help them cope with illness; things like that.
Each year, your conference is packed. What do you make of that?
There really is such a hunger. We have trained more than 2,000 healthcare professionals so far, and I think each year we are reminded that there is such a void out there for spiritual training.
How do bioethical matters and spirituality overlap?
For instance, in-vitro fertilization; embryonic stem cell research; abortion — there have been approximately 50 million abortions performed in the United States since its legalization in 1973; contraception — today, 89 percent of women of child-bearing age are using contraceptives; and euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, which have recently been legalized in Washington, Oregon, and Montana. For the Church, whose principles rest upon the inviolable dignity of each person from conception to natural death — and God as their Creator — the challenges are that we must be ever attentive to the fact that things that were once unthinkable have now become not only feasible, but routinely practiced.
In addition to the emphasis you place on bioethics and Church doctrine, you also place great emphasis on an "instrument" at our disposal that, in the realm of the sick and dying, is at least as powerful as any medical breakthrough.
Yes, the Divine Mercy message and devotion. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy, for one. Our Lord tells us through St. Faustina, "Say unceasingly the chaplet that I have taught you. Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death," (Diary of St. Faustina, 687). The Chaplet is the most powerful prayer next to the Mass that you can say for the dying. Relying on Jesus' promises through St. Faustina, healthcare professionals can be the spiritual link to Christ ... His merciful presence at the bedside of the patient. By prayer and by using our hands and our hearts, healthcare professionals can bring God's grace of healing and consolation to their patients and the patients' families. Another key role is to recognize the seriousness of an illness and injury and assist with obtaining the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and also other Sacraments such as Reconciliation and Baptism. In some cases, the nurse or physician makes the call themselves for pastoral care for a Catholic priest or other minister of the patient's faith.
At its very heart, your ministry seeks to follow Christ's call to care for the sick.
Yes, and remember it was the Catholic Church that pioneered and systemized treatment and prevention of illness and injuries, having founded in the Middle Ages the world's first hospitals. Today, we no longer have a God-centered society. We're at a crisis point. In short, we need to teach healthcare professionals to approach all medical matters with the understanding that humans are God's greatest masterpiece, and they deserve not only the best medical care, but the best spiritual care, as well.
In your efforts to educate healthcare professionals about these issues, you manage to attract speakers who are some of the biggest names in both Catholic theology and medicine. How do you manage to get such an illustrious line-up?
The speakers we invite realize the importance of healthcare professionals receiving solid theological training in key areas such as bioethics and the importance of the Sacraments of the Church and many have witnessed the impact of religion to help the sick or injured patients. In addition, these speakers are dedicated practitioners in their fields and their own hearts have been touched by the Holy Spirit to share the practical and required aspects of the spiritual care of the sick, injured and dying. We are very grateful to each speaker who gives their time willingly to assist in our vital academic program for healthcare professionals.
For more information on the upcoming conference or to register, call 1-800-462-7426 or visit thedivinemercy.org/Worcester.