Healthcare professionals, caregivers, and members of the general public packed Christ Cathedral’s Freed Theater on Oct. 25 for a full-day seminar on the Whole Person Care Initiative (WPCI). WPCI is an all-encompassing, collaborative approach fostered locally by the Diocese of Orange’s Pastoral Care office and Office of Life, Justice, and Peace on caring for the sick and the dying from a Catholic perspective. In addition to involving the healthcare system, the effort includes a multitude of diocesan resources from the parish level and local social work programs.
“The topics presented at the conference educate our community at large and specifically our older adult community regarding tough issues that sometimes are not given enough attention,” said Dr. Jacqueline DuPont, founder and CEO of Irvine Cottages, the presenting sponsor for the conference. “As our population ages so rapidly, our advocates and caregivers need more information in order to make ethical decisions for their loved ones,” Dr. DuPont added.
The event emphasized the partnerships and collaborations WPCI is forging across Orange County by featuring panelists and speakers across the county. St. Joseph Health was a gold sponsor, and Right at Home and Salus were silver sponsors for the event. “The day was filled with inspiration, hope, and challenges to do better in caring for those with chronic illnesses and those near death,” said Sr. Kit Gray, CSJ, director of Mission Integration and Ongoing Formation at Christ Cathedral.
“I was struck by the diversity of the participants, which was something we had hoped for,” Greg Walgenbach, director of the Office of Life, Justice, and Peace commented. “It was really wonderful to see such a representative cross section of folks.” Walgenbach also noted the participation of delegations from the dioceses of Stockton, Fresno, San Bernardino, San Diego, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Bishop Vann opened the event and was present throughout the various presentations, leading the opening prayer, sharing his own personal experiences in the healthcare field, and concluding the event with closing remarks and prayer. “In a time when divisions are palpable, politics divide and chaos seems to reign, and we strive for holiness as a Church, we never cease to hold close to us those who are vulnerable in our midst,” Bishop Vann stated.
“Bishop Vann’s presence was a powerful statement of his support and leadership with WPCI and demonstrates how important it is for the Catholic faith community in Orange not only to be a part of this effort but to spearhead it,” said Linda Ji, director of Pastoral Care For Families in All Stages.
The day’s keynote speaker was physician Dr. Ira Byock, founder and chief medical officer for the Institute for Human Caring at Providence St. Joseph Health. Dr. Byock’s talk, Clinical and Cultural Leadership in Turbulent Times, centered on recognizing how each individual needs a sense of belonging and dignity at the end life. “This message speaks to how we ought to live and relate to one another at every stage of life,” Sr. Kit said. “Dr. Byock has promoted palliative and hospice care in a way that has significantly impacted U.S. healthcare.”
The Oct. 25 conference showcased the priority the diocese and its collaborators are placing on the initiative. The program comes on the heels of a series of parish presentations, called Care, Prepare and Connect, that seeks to educate parishioners on end-of-life care. This includes understanding the continuum of care, the differences between palliative care, end-of-life care, and hospice care. WPCI also encourages preparation of advance directives, which provides instructions for future treatment.
Other speakers included Dr. Megory Anderson, founder of the Sacred Dying Foundation, who spoke on empowering the laity in end-of-life care. Sr. Eileen McNerny, CSJ presented on palliative care for the soul. Mark Jablonski, vice president, Mission Integration for St. Joseph Health and Dr. Vincent Nguyen from Hoag Hospital reflected further on the Catholic position of end-of-life care. “I was grateful for the participation of these individuals from diverse backgrounds,” Ji said.
“It is clear that there is a deep hunger to talk about death (even though we don’t always know how), and to address the difficult situations we find ourselves in and how we can better accompany one another,” Walgenbach said.
Throughout the event, networking opportunities allowed participants to visit various exhibitor booths, such as Alzheimer’s Orange County, Visiting Angels, Housecall Doctors Medical Group, and Catholic Funeral Plan and Catholic Cemeteries Advance Planning, among others.
“This initiative is proactive and positive in the face of societal pressures around end of life,” Sr. Kit noted. “The commitment, time, and energy have advanced this partnership of the California bishops, Catholic healthcare, and Catholic dioceses and parishes,” Sr. Kit added.