Covenant Health app helps health professionals find ethical signposts

01 October 2019

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

One of the most challenging things Hazel Markwell has ever done is hold the hand of a dying child.

Markwell, a bioethicist and a former chaplain at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, discovered that working among very sick children in neonatal and pediatric intensive care units was “one of the most life-altering and life-changing experiences” of her career.

“When you’re working with children, you have to be practical. Children like to play. They like to express their fears in a different way. It’s very much an experience of immediacy.”

Markwell now works as an ethics and policy adviser for the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada, but she knows what it’s like to need immediate answers and support in difficult situations. That’s why she believes a new app called the Health Ethics Guide can help people on the front lines of health care.

“The guide speaks about the role of a child as being a participant as much as she can in decisions, and it speaks about supporting the parents in the worst possible experience that a parent could possibly have,” said Markwell.

“The guide helps by always turning us back and never leaving the patient, emotionally or physically.”

Her testimony is one of many featured in the Health Ethics Guide app, created by Covenant Health and the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada.

The app is a simpler and more accessible version of a Health Ethics Guide first published by the CHAC in 1991, revised in 2000, and updated again in 2012. The document tackles various ethical questions in a health care environment, including patient care, human dignity, end of life issues, and even governance and administration.

“Every day within our work as sponsors, board members, or leaders, we will engage the ethical questions,” Gordon Self, chief mission and ethics officer for Covenant Health.

“The healing ministry of Jesus and concern for the marginalized, that’s very much a part of our Catholic tradition, our ethos,” he said.

“The guide is as much a reflection of our identity as Catholic healthcare as much as an instructional document.”

Since the Health Ethics Guide app launched earlier this year, it has been downloaded about 200 times on Apple devices and dozens of times on Android devices.

“It uses very down-to-earth language,” said Bob Breen, executive director of the Denominational Health Association and the Catholic Health Association of B.C.

The app discusses “fundamentals of Catholic faith and how we can use that to guide the care we give.”

Patrick Dumelie, chief executive officer of Covenant Health, said the app is less a list of rules and “do nots” and more a “guidepost” to support health care workers in challenging times.

“It tells us we need to go out and serve others and find ways of creatively doing that while staying true to who we are and what we believe.”

Self hopes more health care professionals across the country will find the guide a helpful tool to understand the published ethics manual in a more accessible, hands-on way.

The guide covers emerging ethical issues, like assisted suicide, as well as  “perennial” topics, like fair treatment of health care staff and how to respect patients of other cultures when it comes to end of life customs or linguistic barriers.

Self said there are talks of creating a French language version. He hopes the app gains momentum among Catholics in health care – or anyone interested in learning more about the intersection of health, ethics, and faith.

The Health Ethics Guide app can be downloaded free from the App Store or Google Play.