Skip to content
News & Updates from Niagara Health

Share This Page

IN IT TOGETHER: Increased need for spiritual support

Posted Jul 9th, 2020

IN IT TOGETHER: Increased need for spiritual support

This is part of a series of stories profiling members of the Niagara Health team and the work they are doing as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meet Donna Hollands-Hurst, a Spiritual Care Provider.

It has been a busy time for Spiritual Care staff at Niagara Health during the pandemic.

With a no-visitor policy that was in effect until June 29 and visitations from Niagara’s faith communities paused, the team has seen an increase in the number of patients seeking their support over the past four months.

And they have stepped up to meet the need.

“We have all, in our own ways, responded to the unique and changing needs of our patients,” says Donna Hollands-Hurst, a Spiritual Care Provider at Niagara Health. “The referrals increased for people who needed comfort and assurance because they were away from family and their regular support system.

“Providing support for patients has increased, but so has support for families. Our team has spent a lot of time providing phone support for families who could not come in to see their loved ones.”

Niagara Health works with more than 1,300 Spiritual Care visitors – ministers, priests, elders, rabbis, imams and lay volunteers from Niagara’s faith communities who visit members of their own congregations in hospital. Those visits have been put on hold during the pandemic. NH’s Spiritual Care team has helped to fill that void, at times including faith leaders by connecting them with patients through telephone or FaceTime.

The pandemic also saw the creation of a team made up of Niagara faith leaders whose religions have end-of-life rites or sacraments that only ordained leaders can perform. They have been fulfilling this important need during the pandemic for patients in the hospital.


Spirituality helps people regain and maintain health, and cope with life’s difficult experiences. The Spiritual Care team engages patients seeking meaning in their sickness, helps them face anxieties and fears, and supports their decision-making process.

Donna, who holds Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees, is a Certified Spiritual Care Practitioner and a Registered Psychotherapist. While she normally supports patients in the Mental Health and Addictions Program, she has also been providing care in the Women’s and Babies’ Unit because of the increased need during the pandemic.

What has changed about your work during the pandemic?

In Mental Health, we have had more patients staying longer term and that has invited me to be a little more creative in terms of the programming that we offer. It has meant we do group sessions with physical distancing. Our groups have been tailored for long-term patients. I have offered support groups or morning meditation daily, instead of once a week. I continue to do one-on-one support with patients. The number of visits has increased because people have their health issues on top of the worries around the pandemic.

What is the biggest challenge for you professionally during the pandemic?

It’s busier in terms of people needing support. I do what I can in the moment and being present and resourceful in terms of things patients may need, whether that is listening, prayer, talk or reading materials. I do my best to meet their needs.

What is a learning you have gained from working during the pandemic?

During the pandemic, all of us have been living in this imposed isolation. This experience aligned me in many ways with some of our patients who live in isolation all of the time. I have come to appreciate a little better the difficulty and the struggle that comes with that. It makes me ask the question: How can we hold onto that learning and consider even better ways that we can care for people who live in isolation every day?

What has been the most challenging part personally for you during the pandemic?

Most challenging was returning home and being isolated there. I have also missed the physical touch with people in my personal life, like holding someone’s hand or giving them a hug.

How do you unwind from work?

I love to work in my vegetable garden. I also love walking. That movement is really healing and helpful. I also enjoy making phone connections with people and having a good laugh. We all need a good laugh sometimes.

Learn more about the Spiritual Care team here.

Niagara Health System