AHS is cutting hospital chaplain contracts in favour of using more community volunteers

Local pastor calls it a “Grinch” move that diminishes essential service.

BY LANA MICHELIN

ADVOCATE STAFF

Alberta Health Services is changing the way it delivers spiritual care at hospitals in the central zone.

The contracts of about 11 part-time hospital chaplains are not being renewed. Instead, volunteer chaplains from the community will be called upon to minister to the spiritual needs of hospital patients, whenever requests are made.

Terry Wiebe, a pastor at Balmoral Bible Chapel, considers this a “Grinch” move.

“Why, when patients needs are on the rise, is Alberta Health Services eliminating hospital chaplain positions, thereby reducing a support needed by so many?” he questioned.

AHS chief zone officer, Kerry Bales, said there would be no gaps in service.

Community ministerial associations have been very co-operative about expanding their role in hospitals, he added. And in case a church chaplain is not available to come to a patient’s bedside, AHS still retains a few staff chaplains that can go instead wherever a need arises.

(While the term “chaplain” is used, he said different kinds of spiritual assistance is provided at AHS hospitals, not just Christian ministry.)

Bales said this change fixes inconsistencies across the region, as some hospitals had already been relying on volunteer chaplains, while others used the contracted chaplains.

By not extending the 11 contracts, about $175,000 will be saved annually — money that can be used in other areas of patient care, Bales added.

Wiebe, who has never been contracted by AHS, believes ‘on-call’ community chaplains, who were previously only used on evenings or weekends, do not have the training or experience to provide the same level of care as hospital chaplains.

As to the difference in service levels, he said “why would Stettler be expected to offer the same service levels as Red Deer? The needs and resources of a larger centre are different and should be responded to differently.”

Wiebe believes cost cutting measures are diminishing an essential hospital service.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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