UNIITE - Understanding the Need for
Interfaith / Intercultural Togetherness & Education

Series to look at religion, health care link


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By Frank Lee


How health care professionals treat patients from different cultures and religious backgrounds is as important as what patients are treated with.

"In some cases, people don't see doctors or go to clinics because they don't feel comfortable doing so," said Jerry Wetterling, a chiropractor in St. Joseph.

UNIITE is organizing a fall educational series, called "Health Care and World Religions," to address such issues as part of a three-year project, pending funding.

"As health care professionals, we need to learn more about the diverse cultures that we serve in the St. Cloud area," said Bret Reuter, director of mission and spiritual care at St. Cloud Hospital.

Wetterling, co-chair of UNIITE, and organizers of the series are looking for those with backgrounds in other cultures to enlighten health care professionals about those cultures.

Cultural exchanges

UNIITE of St. Cloud aims to offer training and organize cultural exchanges for health care professionals about "culturally appropriate" approaches to immigrant health.

"For some decades, people have been challenging each other to move from a biomedical paradigm to a more holistic paradigm of health care," said Malcolm Nazareth, executive director of UNIITE.

UNIITE received a $10,000 grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation in December to plan for the Health Care and World Religions series.

"Our main goal here is to help medical professionals in the St. Cloud area understand these different cultures," said Sister Carol Virnig, coordinator of Centro Hispano at the Church of St. Joseph in Waite Park.

The Hispanic center serves almost 200 Hispanic families in the St. Cloud area, offering English lessons and physical examsby bilingual doctors and nurses.

"We respond to the spiritual needs of the Latinos from the Central Minnesota area. However, we have found that there are many other basic human needs that need to be responded to many times before the religious aspect," Virnig said.

UNIITE plans to partner with St. Cloud Hospital among others, for the educational series.

"We're looking at Chinese medicine, Native American medicine, yoga, drumming, for example, as other ways of healing," Nazareth said.

Wetterling said he expects health care professionals will be able to receive continuing education credit as an added incentive for attending the series.

Blending practices

"Certain cultures have a more dominant faith tradition. Many Somalis are Muslim, for example," said Reuter, a member of the CentraCare Health System Diversity Committee. "In Native American culture, there is a particular type of prayer in which sage or smoke is used as part of their prayer for healing."

The series will examine whether traditional, or Western, healing practices can co-exist with holistic, or Eastern, practices.

"Is there a cultural practice where someone is using a certain herb as treatment? If so, a pharmacist needs to know that. It could interfere with her prescribed medication," Reuter said.

"It's really all about respect and how can we serve them better by educating ourselves and honor those ways in the ways that we can," Reuter said.

About the series

UNIITE's "Health Care and World Religion" series will focus on ethnic groups recent to the St. Cloud area, such as South Asian Hindus, Laotian Buddhists, Hmong, Latino Christians and Somali Muslims.

UNIITE will have five four-hour sessions that kick off the series every other Tuesday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., beginning Sept. 12, at Hoppe Auditorium at St. Cloud Hospital (with a registration fee yet to be determined).

Copyright 2005 St. Cloud Times