Hospitality is the heart of health care – SaskEthics reflection

By Dr. Mary Heilman, Bioethicist for CHAS  and St. Paul’s Hospital, Saskatoon

[November 2022 issue of SaskEthics, an Ethics Newsletter for Catholic Healthcare Organizations in Saskatchewan, re-published with permission]

Dr. Mary Heilman, Bio-ethicist, CHAS and St. Paul’s Hospital

This October, the Saskatchewan Catholic Healthcare family gathered in person for the first time since the pandemic for the CHAS Annual Convention. This year’s theme was “Hospitality” which has prompted me to spend a lot of time thinking about the ethics of hospitality.

As it turns out, other people are thinking about hospitality too.  In fact, the Catholic Health Association of the United States of America has launched an Advent program centered on the theme of hospitality (availble at  Coincidence?  I think not.

Hospitality is at the core of Catholic healthcare.  The words “hospital” and “hospitality” have the same root precisely because the first hospitals were places that welcomed weary travelers and provided them with a hot meal and a bed to help them regain their strength.  This practice of welcoming the stranger was embraced by monasteries, and later guided the work of our founding sisters who set up hospitals and long term care homes across the province.

At the CHAS convention, I presented a workshop on “The Ethics of Hospitality” where I asked participants to brainstorm some of the ways that they prepare for guests. Whether they were putting clean sheets on the bed, pulling out a casserole or clearing their schedules for the weekend, all the preparations came down to 3 key needs that hosts hope to meet for their guests: shelter, food and relationships.

Hospitality remains foundational to healthcare because it is only when people feel secure and nourished that they can enter into the relationships necessary for healing. As the hosts of healthcare, it is our job to remove any barriers that might get in the way of that process.

For example, consider the barriers that are faced by someone who does not speak English when they first enter a hospital. What can we do to help them feel welcome? Perhaps we need to ensure our signs are in multiple languages and/or depict pictures of the places a person may try to access, or perhaps we need to place a greeter at our door. We may also want to offer them a quick tour to ensure they know where they can access washrooms and drinking water, or provide them with the information needed to ask for a translator.

Is your hospital or care home a welcoming place? How do care for your teammates to ensure they feel welcome at work? How do you as a team extend that same sense of welcome to those in your care?

If you would like to learn more about the ethics of hospitality, please visit this link for the SHA’s November Ethics Exchange: (video of presentation, below).