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Sisters of Providence respond to compelling need for health care

What brought Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and her companions to Indiana? A compelling need — education. Education of children and adults has remained the primary ministry of the Sisters of Providence for most of our history.

Less well known though is that, throughout our history, the Sisters of Providence have responded to the compelling need for health care.

Providence Health Care Director of Nursing Kim Wright shows off a fall food craft activity with Sister Ann Stephen Stouffer.

Moments in SP health care history

In March 1848, Mother Theodore and Sisters Olympiade and Joachim traveled to Vincennes to open a pharmacy there. The Bishop of the Vincennes diocese had made the request of the sisters so that the sick poor of the area would receive medical care.

World War II saw many Chinese soldiers and prisoners of war cared for by Sisters of Providence missionaries who had arrived in China in 1920.

Sister Ann Monica Inman (RIP) opened the Providence Speech and Hearing Center in Orange, California, in 1965. The clinic accepted pre-school children who could speak not at all or very little. Today, this original Providence Speech and Hearing Clinic has expanded to seven satellite campuses.

In 1975, Sisters Rita Black (RIP) and Suzanne Buthod ministered in Selma and Uniontown, Alabama. They served elderly African American neighbors by delivering medications, checking blood sugar levels and taking blood pressures. They gathered women for arm chair exercises but more importantly for a chance to socialize.

Modern day healthcare need

In recent years, health care has been a primary ministry here at Saint Mary of the Woods. Providence Health Care, Inc. was established to care for Sisters of Providence. Today, Providence Health Care (PHC) serves both sisters and other women and men. The care offered spans the spectrum of assisted living, long-term care and several types of rehabilitation.

Certainly the requirement for health care to tend to the physical well-being of residents is a compelling need. However Kim Wright, PHC’s director of nursing, motivates the staff to recognize at least two other compelling needs of residents.

Person-centered care

Person-centered care allows residents the freedom to direct many of their activities of daily living, e.g., sleeping until 10 a.m. instead of being awakened at 7 a.m. for breakfast. This seemingly simple thing helps to change the PHC culture from an institutional model to a person-centered model. The willingness of the PHC staff to forgo the efficiency of a set schedule in favor of a more spontaneous model of care speaks volumes for their commitment to recognizing and respecting the dignity and individuality of persons in their care.

The other compelling need Kim recognizes is this — creating “moments of joy” in the daily lives of all residents. Kim’s sparkling eyes, her warm smile and her obvious enthusiasm all indicate her passion for working toward the goal of knowing how to guide a resident into experiencing as many daily “moments of joy” as possible.

Creating joy

Creating joy can be as easy as talking about teaching with a former teacher or about trains with a former train engineer. Sharing an afternoon snack, taking someone out into the sunny courtyard, sitting with someone who is agitated — all can create joyful moments. Again, these are seemingly simple acts; but they take the time of busy staff who have other tasks that must be done. Yet take the time Kim and her staff do — many times each day.

That’s what makes Kim’s enthusiasm for and the staff’s dedication to creating moments of joy so touching. They recognize that well-being includes both attentiveness to the sacredness of a person’s body and the sacredness of a person’s spirit. Most importantly they believe that joy is one of the most important outcomes of their daily care for residents.

Mother Theodore left a legacy of meeting compelling needs. Sisters of Providence and all our ministry partners courageously and creatively step up to meet today’s compelling needs. Legacy building on legacy. May it continue to be so.

(Originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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