Author: Petkau, Evelyn Rempel
Date published: September 19, 2011
What makes a Mennonite personal care home Mennonite? This question is central to the critical financial situation that the Bethania Group faces in its two personal care homes.
Bethania Personal Care Home in north Winnipeg provides services to 147 residents. Pembina Place, housed on the second and third floors of a six-storey Manitoba Housing complex in south Winnipeg, provides care to 57 older adults. Both of these facilities fall under the auspices of the Bethania Group, which describes itself as "a Mennonite organization that demonstrates Christian love by compassionately offering a continuum of wellness, housing and personal care services for older adults."
Although an inter-Mennonite board oversees these two facilities, "99.9 percent of our budget is provided by Manitoba Health and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority," says Ray Koop, CEO of Bethania Group. "Years ago, our residents would have been predominantly Mennonite. Now less than a third of our residents are Mennonite. We are still highly desired by the Mennonite community, but we are limited primarily to the external system that determines who is admitted."
This system of funding "has a negative impact on how we can hold ourselves to be a Mennonite facility if the only measure is the ability to give preferential treatment to Mennonites," Koop says. "I do believe being a Mennonite facility is more than admitting only Mennonites. As an organization, we want to support our community, but there is a multitude of ways we can do that."
The most significant way that Koop feels the Mennonite identity can be retained is through the spiritual care programs at the two facilities. Ferdinand Funk, chaplain at Bethania, and Melita Rempel-Burkholder, chaplain at Pembina Place, oversee the spiritual care of their residents. "This is one of the ways we can support and advance our Anabaptist faith and understanding," says Koop, noting that, although providing spiritual care is part of the mandate that Manitoba Health has placed on personal care homes, the province provides no public money for this program.
The presence of a spiritual care program makes a difference in the Mennonite homes, in Funks view. "We provide care in a much more holistic way than you might expect in a non-spiritual based community," he says. "Basically, it is living out the way we understand our Christian faith - with compassion, love, respect, doing unto others as you would expect them to do to you, and meeting people where they are on their spiritual path."
As Mennonite chaplains, Funk and Rempel-Burkholder meet the spiritual care needs of people of many different faiths. "We understand that meeting the needs of people where they are on their faith journey is the priority," says Funk. When people enter a personal care home, they often come with a deep sense of loss. Helping them come to a sense of peace about their life is one of Funk's goals. "Everyone has spiritual needs, whether they are religious or not. This particular environment opens the door to addressing those needs," he says.
For Bethania and Pembina Place a critical challenge is looming. The spiritual care program is funded entirely through donations. "It has been really difficult for the last number of years," Koop says. "We haven't really expanded our program and each year the amount of donations we receive are increasingly insufficient to cover the cost of the program."
While the Interfaith Health Care Association of Manitoba has been lobbying the government to provide funding for this program, Koop does not see a breakthrough soon. "We've been meeting with our local churches to let them know there is a problem, that the amount of donations has declined and is not meeting the cost of the program," he says. "We are not in a crisis mode today, but probably in three years, if we don't see any significant shift, we'll have to do something, whether that's finding other funding sources or increased government revenue, or looking at reducing program costs."
The annual spiritual care fundraising dinner on Oct. 24 at Douglas Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, is one of two annual fundraisers. Individual donors help raise the remainder of the $100,000 needed for the program, according to Koop.
STORY AND PHOTO BY EVELYN REMPEL PETKAU