Calling the Shots for National Standards For Holistic Healthcare
By: Jonna Rae Bartges,
“If one is intentional, a single idea can change many realities. The biggest intention wins!”
~Lourdes Lorenz, Director of Integrative Healthcare, Mission Hospital
Long before the term became mainstream, Lourdes Lorenz, founder and director of Mission Integrative Health Care, was a holistic nurse. “The biggest change I’ve seen in medical care in three decades,” says Lourdes, “is the emergence of patient–centered care where traditional medicine holistically treats the body, mind and spirit of the patient.”
She should know. She’s creating a template for evidence-based integrative health care that can be plugged in to any healthcare system in the world. She has been a featured presenter at the national meetings for the American Holistic Nurses’ Association and the Healing Touch Program-Worldwide. And this is just part of the story.
“I learned about healing from my father, who was a physician,” Lourdes said from her bright, cheery office on the ground floor of Mission Hospital’s Heart Tower. “My parents, 13 brothers and sisters and I came to America from Cuba, and later moved to Orlando where my father volunteered his time to care for workers in the migrant camps outside the city. I became his little assistant, and he always assumed that I’d one day become a physician, too.”
Medicine did interest Lourdes, but with her strong spiritual convictions, she also desired to volunteer in Third World Countries. At one point, Lourdes was seriously considering missionary work in a South American nation so she could use her fluent Spanish. Until reality set in, this seemed like a natural fit.
“I began to realize that women working in some Latin American nations could face a lot of challenges,” Lourdes said, “so I became a dancer instead.” She confesses, with a sly smile, that part of this radical departure from previous career plans was a show of youthful defiance against her doctor dad. Defiant or not, Lourdes had considerable performance skills, and danced her way into an exciting chapter of her life teaching ballet, jazz, point, tap and modern dance classes. She also kicked up her heels and sang in musical theater shows like Camelot, West Side Story, Anything Goes, and Irma La Douce.
Working on the stage, Lourdes was exposed to theatrical people who were into a holistic lifestyle in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She started learning about new healing and wellness techniques such as essential oils, organic foods, herbs, meditation, and music therapy.
“The big turning point in my brief theater career,” Lourdes recalls, “was when I auditioned for the role of the oldest Von Trapp daughter in Sound of Music. Unfortunately, I was rejected because of my waist-length black hair. I looked ‘too Spanish.’ I realized that I needed to pursue another interest in between shows to support myself, and for me, the easy choice was nursing.”
A Healing Presence
Lourdes was already very comfortable with medical terminology and the discipline and demands of school. With these skills already intact, she knew getting a nursing degree would be a perfect fit. She did have doubts, though, because she had known nurses in the past who were not happy—and she didn’t want to live her life under a cloud.
Soon after she began working in critical care, Lourdes discovered the missing peace of her “unhappy nurse” puzzle.
In a college comparative religion course, Lourdes learned that many religions have the same core belief—that the greatest truth is Love. Most believed in a Supreme Being, and ‘loving thy neighbor as thyself.’ This revelation blended beautifully with her Catholic upbringing, instilling a very personal, very strong spiritual direction to be of service. This open-hearted approach to her life, and her work, opened her eyes to what nursing was all about. Tending to patients’ broken bodies was only part of the job. Caring for their fearful minds and wounded spirits was also a crucial piece.
“I immediately fell in love with my patients,” she said. “I don’t know if I realized then that I was a ‘healing presence’ for them, but when I set the intention to do the best for my patients, I always healed myself through the process. It fed and inspired me to go to work every day.”
This concept of “joyful service in action” led Lourdes to begin doing a walking meditation before heading to the hospital, setting the intent for a day of connecting with her patients and their families.
“I still do this daily,” Lourdes says. “I invite God’s love and grace to permeate every pore of my body. I ask to radiate positivity, healing and love to everyone I meet. I ask to serve as a role model of God’s love. I feel it—and it’s an important mental and spiritual state to be in before going into a place so stressful with a lot of high anxiety.”
And it worked.
“I joined Mission in July of 2005, coming from a hospital in Indiana where I was Interim Director of Critical Care,” she said. “Even there, I led my team in taking care of the body, mind and spirit of every patient.” If a patient was in a coma, Lourdes asked the family to bring in some of the patient’s favorite music to play for them. She allowed the patients to experience aromatherapy oils that effectively canceled acrid hospital odors, and gently massaged their feet and bodies back to a healthy color.
Even though her formal nursing training didn’t include a holistic approach, it just became part of the care she provided. As an interim director, she arranged for two massage therapists to come monthly and do bodywork on the staff. At the hospital where she worked in Indiana, they had a nurse perform holistic interventions for the whole floor in the women’s unit. The hospital saw the immediate benefits, and brought the nurse in full time.
“One of the things I noticed immediately—nurses who are more present for their patients and provide extra attention like holistic nursing interventions end up having fewer complications in their patients. The nurses in the unit who are happy, eager to pitch in, and willing do what is required to take care of the patients —those are the holistic nurses. My first exposure to holistic care of a patient was in 1982 in Orlando, Florida with my mentor, Pat Nash, the nurse in charge of training me in a critical care unit.”
“She helped me understand what nursing truly is—treating every person as your most beloved family member. Nurses are with patients 24 hours a day, and see every little nuance. We not only support the patient but we’re working with a family in crisis. We understand that it’s not normal to be in a hospital and patients feel powerless. Their nurses must become empathetic. How would you feel if people told you when and what to eat, when you can get up, when you can go to the bathroom? You have to depend on other people for everything, and it’s a difficult position to be in. Family members feel helpless and stressed seeing their loved one so vulnerable. Nurses know how to request what the patient needs, make them the most comfortable and empower patients under their watch.”
R.A.C.E. for Life
One life-saving patient initiative Lourdes created shortly after joining Mission quickly spread to all 14 hospitals in the 18 Western North Carolina counties. Finally, it went national.
“I began working on the R.A.C.E. project in 2005—Reperfusion of Acute Myocardial Infarction in Carolina Emergency Departments,” Lourdes explained. “This protocol makes sure that heart attack patients who go to any emergency department in the state are promptly diagnosed and treated with either ‘clot buster’ drugs or emergent cardiac catheterization to clear the blocked vessel, and stop the heart muscle from dying. Research shows that there are three times more heart attacks than trauma patients. In Western North Carolina, there was a process in place for treating trauma and none for rapidly treating heart attack victims, ‘Time is muscle’ in heart attacks. The quicker you can get the patient into treatment at a healthcare facility, the better their chance of survival.”
The program Lourdes worked on brings together teams of cardiologists, nurses, healthcare administrators, emergency room staff, and county emergency medical systems. This program has become a national platform for the American Heart Association.
In 2007, Joseph Damore, Mission Health’s CEO, asked her for a strategic business plan for an Integrative Health Care program. The plan Lourdes created for him six years ago has been followed to a ‘T.’ This plan is now used for her doctoral dissertation in healthcare administration. When Lourdes completes this dissertation, it will serve as a model for integrative health care centers across the country.
Lourdes said Mission is one of the few, if not the only hospital, with a 16-member staff fully supporting integrative health care. Several nurses, yoga and tai chi instructors, massage therapists, a physician, a music therapist (harpist), and pet therapy coordinators provided evidence-based complimentary therapies to hospital and Cancer Center patients. Ultimately, the Integrative Health department with Lourdes’ guidance has a goal to expand and provide more outpatient services to the community.
After Lourdes launched the Integrative Health Care Department, she made it a priority to make the rest of the Mission staff more aware of what her department did. Lourdes began coordinating free retreats for the ancillary staff and nurses to attend on their own time.
“I wanted to share with them resources for optimal wellness and self-care, self-healing and self-nurturing. Acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic, energy work, aromatherapy, reflexology stations were set up all over the place, and the nurses experienced modalities that many of them had never heard of. With Asheville’s wealth of complimentary practitioners,” smiled Lourdes, “it was quite easy to find the people to facilitate all the necessary treatments.”
Lourdes quoted Wayne Dyer and said, “‘When you change the way you look at things: the things you look at, change.’” The staff retreats encourage nurses to remember the essence of healing, and remind them to stay centered when they wash their hands.
Building a Consensus
Despite the immediate and dramatic acceptance of Mission’s Integrative Health Care department, Lourdes was mindful about how she introduced the concept to the rest of the hospital.
“I felt that it was a strategic approach to survey the nursing and physician staff before we launched Integrative Health Care,” Lourdes said. She conducted a survey to get a feeling of the staff’s point of view on integrative health.
“The survey results indicated that 78% of the physicians were already referring patients to complimentary providers, so I knew there wasn’t going to be much resistance to the idea,” she said. “I think resistance occurs when we try to be divisive. What conventional medicine brings to the table is very important—the holistically trained nurses are here to help spiritual needs, bring comfort, and assist patients with distress and anxiety. When we can alleviate pain and stress, we complement what the doctors do. We assist nurses to be more present with the patients, and the patients feel better cared for. Everyone wins.”
Actually, Lourdes uses the language from her first career path to explain how to introduce, to some, the radical idea of a whole department dedicated to evidence-based complementary healthcare. “It’s a dance,” she said. “If I start going in a direction and I meet resistance, I just take a step to the side, and a step back, then another step forward. I believe we’re here to serve the patients, and we’re very lucky Mission’s administration believes in that.”
After great success with the retreats, Lourdes decided to create a three-day course for holistic nurses. “Our first year, we taught 150 Mission nurses how to provide simple massage, aromatherapy, guided imagery, breath work, biofeedback and energy work to patients. Now, nearly 400 nurses have taken the training on their own time. At their request, we opened the retreats to other Mission staff, and nearly 800 employees from all departments— dietary, pharmacy, housekeeping and all the others—have taken the training.
“It’s not about our roles at the hospital,” Lourdes insists, “but how we’re ‘being’ while we’re living. How are you treating other people, and are you being mindful of that? It is all about more positive, respectful communication. Everyone benefits from that.”
Feedback for the holistic retreats and holistic nursing training program has been overwhelmingly positive.
One nurse said that the experience changed her life as a mother, a woman and a nurse. She realized that she was lacking a spiritual dimension of herself; she had been thinking that she was a failure because she did not like the job she was doing. After the retreat, she could not wait to get back to work. She realized that she is responsible for what she brings to her life, personally and professionally. She is a Christian and says she has completely released her stress.
Another example of integrative therapies working alongside conventional medicine comes from a young man in the cancer unit who was on IV therapy for nausea. A nurse who received the holistic training intervened, gently massaged an acupressure point on the man’s wrists, and taught his family exactly how and where to apply the pressure. The patient’s gray skin immediately turned a healthy pink, and he was discharged the next day.
Lourdes maintains a healthy realism about the positive results of the Integrative Health Care training. “What I care about are the outcomes. Placebo or not, patients discharged earlier have fewer complications and need less pain medication. It’s a win-win!”
The only restriction to any modality she teaches her team is that it be evidence-based. “Patients trust that when they enter our medical facility, everything offered to them will be under a safe umbrella, and will do them no harm. There is plenty of research showing that everything we do does not hurt them, and can often help them.”
Patients Must Play a Role
What can hinder a patient’s recovery is overdoing a good thing, like taking four or five times the recommended dosage of an herbal supplement when they get home, or not taking accountability for their well-being. Physicians need to be informed about supplements, vitamins, and herbal remedies patients are using that may interact with medicines.
“Most people want an easy fix and that usually comes through a pill. They do not want to change their lifestyle to a more healthy way of living. They may want instant gratification, and instant results, without doing any work. People need to start taking better care of themselves,” said Lourdes, “like not eating fast food, or just sitting in front of the TV.”
“I feel that it’s important to create a new model for health care that’s patient-centered and deals with all dimensions of health,” Lourdes said. “We need to focus on maintenance —what are you doing to maintain your health? Look at all aspects of your life—financial, social, relational, mental, environmental, physical and spiritual. How do you manage your stress? Unchecked stress allows diseases to come in. You’re not being mindful. Stress resilience is one of the keys to maintaining health. Everything is interrelated—that’s the beauty of it.
“The good news is that if you work on the mental aspect of who you are, you will impact the physical and spiritual. If you work on the physical, you’ll impact the spiritual and mental,” she added. “Everything is interrelated. We can no longer compartmentalize patients, and just focus on their heart, or brain, or stomach. We have to see the patient as a whole, and we have to get them involved in their own well-being.”
“Right now we’re spending $2.4 trillion on medical care in this country and we’re still not the healthiest country in the world. Ninety-five cents of each dollar is spent on chronic disease. Is it medicine’s fault? No—it’s the public’s fault, as well. Too many Americans have an unhealthy lifestyle. How do we start teaching people to value their health, and their children’s health? How do we get them to see the consequences of what they’re eating, how they’re living, how they are dealing with stress? The average American lifestyle is not conducive to health.”
Answering a “Soul Call”
While Lourdes continues to work non-stop raising awareness and helping others adopt healthy, holistic habits, she has daily confirmation that she’s on the right track. Inside the glass doors of her Integrative Health Care department, there’s the usual brisk-paced activity you’d except at one of the nation’s most respected medical facilities, with one huge exception. All of the 16 members of Lourdes’ groundbreaking team are smiling. They’re happy. They’re laughing. They enjoy each other and love what they do—and that, says Lourdes, is the key to holistic nursing.
“The most rewarding part of my job is working with my crew,” she says, smiling widely. “We greet each other with a hug, and sit around this table every day for lunch. It’s very important for me to build relationships that way. I want people to come to work because they want to be together. That’s also what makes them exceptional, holistic healers.”
For Lourdes, the camaraderie extends beyond the doors of her own department. “Being able to work with the incredible nurses in this hospital is just phenomenal, and the leadership I work with is extremely supportive. I feel that I’m living a very purpose-filled life. I’m trying to inspire people, but at the same time they’re always inspiring me. I have the best job on the planet, and I definitely felt that I was guided to be here.
“The first time I visited the Asheville area it was a foggy, cloudy day in 1989, and there were no leaves on the trees. Despite all that, I pulled to the side of the road and started to cry. Something grabbed my heart and told me I had to live here. I knew I was going to create a holistic retreat. At the time, I didn’t even know what that meant, but it was definitely a ‘soul call’—I knew with every cell of my being that I was going to end up here.
“The more that you live in a world of possibilities, the more wonderful things happen for you. When you’re walking the path you’re supposed to walk, things unfold before you. I stayed in that open-hearted place, and 16 years later, I returned and started creating that dream.”
For more information on Mission Integrative Health Care, upcoming events and how to get involved in the program, visit their website at missionhospitals.org/healing.
Jonna Rae Bartges, Emmy winning producer, speaker and minister, is the author of Psychic or Psychotic? Memoirs of a Happy Medium. She is the founder of PSI, Practical Spirituality Institute, the happy medium between the worlds of science and spirit. PSI offers Reiki training and healing for the body; psychic consultations for the mind and intuitive development workshops for the spirit. To register for her next workshops June 2 in Seattle, WA or July 7 & 8 in Asheville, NC, call her at (828) 337-4017 or visit her website at JonnaRae.com.