Contract pastor positions eliminated at hospitals

Ponoka hospital pastor contract not renewed by AHS

Several contract pastors who take care of patients’ spiritual needs in central Alberta hospitals did not have their contracts renewed by Alberta Health Services (AHS).

For the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre, pastor Len Eichler’s contract was not renewed, which had some area residents worried about patients’ spiritual care.

One worry is that by removing these positions, patients will be left high and dry, however, an AHS representative confirmed that the agency is working closely with local ministerial associations to continue that care.

Kerry Bales, central zone chief officer, confirmed that approximately 11 part-time pastors’ contracts were not renewed. The savings amounts to approximately three full-time staffers, said Bales.

“We’re always trying to make sure we’re using them in the most-effective way that we can,” he explained.

As for spiritual care, Bales said the redesigned model does not remove spiritual care and that AHS is working closely with ministerial associations Ponoka’s included and local churches in the more rural communities. He said the goal is to continue spiritual care through this avenue.

“Spiritual care is a very important part of people’s overall health and well-being,” said Bales.

There are a few hospitals in the AHS central zone that have employed pastors who remain in their positions, the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury being one of them.

For Eichler’s part he worked about eight hours per week, equivalent to a .2 employee. He had no qualms on the decision, adding that he enjoyed his time with patients. If anything, the time gave him strong insight into the dedication of doctors and nurses at the hospital.

“I enjoyed it. And you get attached to some of these people,” said Eichler of his weekly visits to the long-term care ward.

“I have no complaints at all.”

He added that a scheduling system has been set up with the ministerial association.