Nurturing spirituality in LTC | I Advance Senior Care Skip to content Skip to navigation

Nurturing spirituality in LTC

October 12, 2011
by Dianne Timmering
| Reprints
Weaving hope into the fabric of healing
Larry limbaugh, spirituality director at winter park care & rehabilitation center, received a box of date-filled butter cookies called ma'amouls from resident aliyah aldarzee. the cookies were a gift in return for the koran the nursing home gave her.
Larry Limbaugh, Spirituality Director at Winter Park Care & Rehabilitation Center, received a box of date-filled butter cookies called Ma'amouls from resident Aliyah Aldarzee. The cookies were a gift in return for the Koran the nursing home gave her.

The Department of Spirituality and Culture of Signature HealthCARE, a post-acute and long-term care nursing home company based in Louisville, Ky., was founded in 2005 on the belief that nurturing the spirit is an integral part of resident and employee care. The department, therefore, was built on the emotional and spiritual healing well of unconditional love for people of all faiths and beliefs, bringing to light the rich cultural traditions of our residents to illuminate the heritage of an older generation and make it visible to the hearts and minds of a “now” generation.

A main component to the department is the interfaith Signature Chaplain Program. Full-time chaplains serve through bold listening, hope and humility, striving to meet residents, employees and family members where they are at the point of their need. Our mission is to bind up the brokenhearted and help heal the sick and aging, frightened and disoriented. We do not “water down” religion but make available a spiritual path specific for individual discovery while respecting the journey of others. At Signature, one can choose to worship or not, but they have the freedom to be.


Skepticism was at an all-time high when Signature President and CEO Joe Steier and I launched the department, both because of the way healthcare “had always been delivered” and the stigma of God in the workplace. Obstacles were many, including in long-term care, where chaplains are typically volunteers. This approach had chaplains coming in to pray and leaving with little involvement or knowledge of the resident's true needs.

To truly integrate spirituality into the organization required an overhaul in thinking, a paradigm shift in routine behaviors with spirituality in its appropriate silo. We envisioned a spirituality department as a prominent part of the care spectrum and we proposed that prayer and spiritual interventions could work into the protocols of healthcare delivery, and aligned with our clinical and therapy teams, could both restore the body and nourish the soul.

Institutional buy-in was critical, and while we didn't have overwhelming global support, we went to facility leaders to create a grassroots groundswell. We wanted to help our facilities with all the fears inherent in long-term care: prevalent resident sickness and depression, family complaints, regulatory requirements and restrictions, and employee turnover. The question was, “How could we help the team?”

We knew the only way to expand the program was to provide anecdotal proof of its power and efficacy. So we began to promote the program's successes through writings of “miracle moments,” large and small, wounds healed in the pains of the heart and on the surface of the skin.


In addition to needing the support of the leaders and staff in our buildings, we also needed buy-in from key departments and company leaders for the spirituality program to expand and thrive.

I realized early on that legal was the shield that would “allow” God in the workplace, ensuring that we were respectful of all faiths and unconditional in our approach. Our legal team, headed by Sandra Adams, helped to edit early documents, protocols and systems. While legal departments are mostly risk averse, Sandra believed that the benefits would outweigh the risks, especially in meeting the suffering, spiritual and healing needs of our people.

Our Human Resources department, led by Tracy Harrison, has proven to be another vital partnership even though the mention of “God” in the workplace might be considered unmentionable in today's corporate arena. But we formed a strong alliance and stepped into the vulnerable unknowns and nuances that spirituality would bring. We saw how guidance and direction, compassion and love together, could help employees achieve their potential and light their capabilities within. The departments listened to each other-minus our pride and fearfulness-and were able to collaborate for the best person-centered outcomes, empowering them to be their best, to be free, to be true to who they were.


While the chaplain program was originally conceived for the resident, we realized early on that many of our employees were in even greater need of the spiritual services we were providing. Many of those employees were single parents, living paycheck to paycheck and wrestling with infinite issues of their own.

The chaplain program initially was part-time but shortly after its inception, we were able to save a woman from suicide and get her the help she needed within the community. Knowing this, Signature HealthCARE's CEO Joe Steier and CFO John Harrison provided us with the financial means to begin hiring more part-time chaplains.

Demand for spiritual care grew among employees and residents dealing with a slew of emotional and practical difficulties, as the chaplains became friends, advocates and confidants. Thus, the part-time program model began to evolve into a full-time program, which paved the way for even closer partnerships with our clinical, HR, therapy and Quality of Life teams.