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Mount Sinai ditches chaplaincy for ‘spiritual care’

Mount Sinai Hospital street view

Earlier this year, Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto changed the way it provides chaplaincy services to its patients.

Rabbi Beryl Schulman, who served as the hospital’s Jewish chaplain for more than 25 years, along with a Roman Catholic deacon, were let go, as Mount Sinai adopted a “spiritual-care model.”

The change in the delivery of spiritual support for patients went “from a religious-based model, to a more spiritual-care model,” and is in keeping with industry standards, said Barbara McCully, vice president of corporate communications at Sinai Health System.

In the years following Mount Sinai’s 2015 merger with Bridgeport Active Healthcare and Circle of Care, Sinai Health System conducted an extensive review, examined current practices at other medical facilities in Canada and the United States, and made the changes, McCully said.

“Although our spiritual-care model is evolving to reflect best practices, our commitment to providing care consistent with the values of our Jewish heritage and meeting the cultural and religious needs of our Jewish patients, families and caregivers is unwavering.”

McCully pointed to a number of services aimed at meeting the spiritual and religious needs of Jewish patients at Mount Sinai, including “a new synagogue – which is used by patients, caregivers and our employees, physicians, learners and volunteers for daily prayers – a kosher food vendor in our food court and a pantry stocked by Bikur Cholim with kosher food packages that are available after hours, Sabbath elevators, as well as recognition and celebration of all Jewish holidays.

“Mount Sinai is a Jewish-founded hospital, so it’s important to retain that legacy and that support.”


Mount Sinai Hospital traces its history back nearly 100 years, to efforts to create a medical facility where members of the community, who often could not speak English, would feel welcome and could receive care at an affordable price.

Today, Mount Sinai serves a diverse population of all religions and beliefs and the hospital offers “spiritual support across patient demographics,” McCully said.

The spiritual care professionals hold  a master of divinity, pastoral studies or master of arts degree and carry professional certification from the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care, with many registered with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario, as well, she added.

That approach does not diminish the hospital’s commitment to meeting the cultural and religious needs of its Jewish patients who wish to receive support from a rabbi, McCully continued. The hospital has a working relationship with Jewish Family & Child, which has two rabbis who visit the hospital on a weekly basis, or when needed.

One former patient who will miss Rabbi Schulman is Janice Clarfield, who was effusive in her praise for the former chaplain.

“He was absolutely phenomenal. He went out of his way more than once for me. He is a real gentleman,” Clarfield said. “He was exceptionally kind, generous and sensitive to my needs. He recited on my behalf the appropriate Jewish prayers in Hebrew.”

Clarfield believes there is a need for a dedicated Jewish chaplain to be on site at the hospital, especially for emergencies. “If you’re Jewish and you’re not well, you want someone to pray on your behalf who is Jewish, such as a Jewish chaplain to pray on your behalf. Rabbi Shulman fulfilled that mitzvah.”

Clarfield believes a non-denominational spiritual guide just doesn’t cut it. “I want someone who prays for me in a way that is significant for me as a person who is Jewish,” she said.

Mount Sinai, which started as a Jewish hospital and still relies on Jewish donors for financial support, should have a Jewish chaplain, in addition to chaplains for other religions, she added.

Meanwhile, up on Bathurst Street, the Baycrest Centre, which treats elderly patients, remains “committed to meeting the religious and spiritual needs of our clients. We employ three rabbis, a multifaith chaplain and are served by volunteer chaplains who make spiritual care rounds on a regular basis,” said Michelle Petch Gotuzzo, the centre’s senior communications advisor.

“We have traditional Orthodox and liberal services every week, as well as organized religious services for the High Holy Days and other holy days.”

McCully said that while Mount Sinai doesn’t have chaplains anymore, “we have strong partnerships with religious leaders in the community that lead celebrations during High Holidays, visit patients and provide support for patients, families and employees.

“Spiritual care will always be a priority for Sinai Health, as we recognize the importance of responding to all who seek religious guidance, meaning, expression, prayers and a compassionate ear as they face trauma, ill health or sadness while in our care.”

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