Edmonton – Every patient needs a medical professional who will listen to his or her story, says Christina Baldwin.
"Story is everywhere in health care, and even today with all of our technology, the patient narrative and the practitioner's ability to interpret correctly that narrative provides 65 per cent to 75 per cent of a correct diagnosis," Baldwin told Covenant Health's annual community meeting Oct. 23.
Baldwin, who lives on an island near Seattle, Wash., has been a writer and seminar presenter for more than 30 years. She has been an English major, a teacher, a writer, a founder of the modern journal-writing movement, and a pioneer in collaborative leadership and communications.
"Every idea I present, especially when shared through a story, you are running through your own story filters, looking for a way to connect. If enough of our stories link up, we feel connected. If none of our stories link up, you think I'm from Mars," she said.
The story of Covenant Health grew out of several lineages of public health care in Alberta.
Baldwin spoke of the Grey Nuns who, with their helping hands and religious values and charism, had a profound impact during Alberta's pioneer era.
In those days, health care was largely run by churches – Catholic hospitals, Methodist hospitals, Presbyterian hospitals, and Anglican hospitals. People's medical needs and religious needs were adhered to within the confines of their own specific faith traditions.
"Up here in Alberta and also down in Montana, the country doctor and country parson or priest worked together. People called on them as a team because they wanted both medicine and religion in the room. They wanted physical and spiritual care," said Baldwin.
Three forms of story are alive today: 1) founder, 2) purpose and 3) now. She argues that a willingness to live out and acknowledge all three threads makes Covenant Health a much stronger organization.
"Knowing these stories and how they interact provides the kind of resilience that Covenant Health needs to set the footers in place for its 151st year," she said.
The founder story is all about lineage and where we come from, and often has mythic elements, a sense of legend. The founders provide tradition and a source of inspiration.
The purpose story is application and practice, and how the founder's story evolves in changing situations. This equates to maintenance, stability and attention to profitability. The "now" story is the edge, what we are learning today that is setting us in a certain direction. The now story involves innovation, preparation for the future and a certain mystery.
"With the now story we are always taking risks because we are forging into new territory. When we look back on it, it's much calmer than when we are living it forward. The now story has a goal, but it's really just a dream," said Baldwin.
She praised Covenant Health for its ability to address people without judgment, to intertwine spiritual practice and health care.
Larger social issues of homelessness, addictions and domestic abuse are not separate from health care.
"Twenty-five years from now, when Covenant Health looks back at the expansion of this kind of health care, what legacy will you discover that you cannot see today? That's the tricky part of the now story, that we can't see very far ahead," said Baldwin.