To Your Health!: SwedishAmerican embraces holistic approach

By Richard S. Gubbe

She’s a pioneer of a higher order in medicine, someone who brought legitimacy to the holistic health field in the region. Cathy Keith, director of EAM grant administration and Holistic Health Services for SwedishAmerican Hospital (SAH), cleared a path for better health care practices by integrating complementary modalities into standard medical practice in the same fashion as other prominent hospitals in the country.

Keith has a nutrition background as a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist. She also holds a Reiki certificate and has studied numerous complementary medicine techniques.

“My personal training has been of a self-directed nature, although I have taken part in fellowship programs in complementary medicine,” Keith says. “I practice a lot of what we preach—essential oils, meditation, aromatherapy, yoga, guided imagery, breath work and acupressure.”

Beginning with the cardiovascular-focused Ornish and CHIP programs, Swedes introduced lifestyle medicine and complementary therapies to Rockford in 1998. Given each program’s medical focus, SAH staff participated in multiple research projects to demonstrate the clinical value of making healthy choices. Outcomes from these studies have been published in multiple professional peer-reviewed journals, and have helped pave the way for insurance and Medicare reimbursement for specific programs and services.

“We are very proud that our investment of time and money helped to improve the health of our community and beyond,” Keith says.

In 2006, SwedishAmerican refocused its efforts and opened a new hospital-based department—Holistic Health Services. Nationally-certified and state-licensed practitioners work directly with patients, physicians, employees and the public with the intent to support the healing process by reducing pain and anxiety with proven low-cost complementary therapies.

More than 100 hospitals, including the impressive Cleveland Clinic, offer CAM practices (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) at their facility in the United States. While most holistic venues such as wellness centers and chiropractic offices were quick to implement the use of “unproven” modalities, hospitals were not. SwedishAmerican requires documentation of the success of a modality before incorporating it into their standard of care.

“In an effort to comply with standards set by the medical staff, part of my job is to investigate the efficacy of various CAM modalities,” Keith says. “If you are going to do any kind of patient service, we have to make sure that it does no harm to patients.

“We make sure they (CAM modalities) hold up to clinical rigor,” Keith adds.

England, for example, uses Reiki as a modality available to anyone as a method of treatment throughout the country.

SAH offers acupressure, guided imagery, holistic nursing consults, massage therapy, music therapy, relaxation techniques and energy healing with healing touch and Reiki. Relaxation techniques are rooted in breath work to reduce anxiety and pain. Keith says there is plenty of documentation that supports the use of breath work as part of the overall plan for someone’s wellness, whereas body detoxification with ionizing footbaths, for instance, have yet to show through studies and through application that they belong in the standard of care.

Some services can be requested, such as a Reiki treatment before or after surgery. CAM modalities also can be included in a plan of care that is individualized.

“And that’s what complementary medicine is striving for,” she says.

And how are these services paid for at SAH? A state grant. SAH has been a continual recipient of the Excellence in Academic Medicine grant.

“It’s a unique grant, with very specific parameters, that we’ve received since 1999,” she says. “It’s not always used for holistic health; it supports numerous endeavors. As long as the State of Illinois General Assembly approves the EAM grant, the SwedishAmerican Hospital leadership team will be able to make a business judgment on how to best spend that money.

“I feel comfortable to say the SAH leadership has been very supportive of the services we provide,” she adds.

The official language used in the Swedes brochure reads: “If you have difficulty with sleep, discomfort, nausea, fatigue, anxiety or stress during your hospital stay, you may benefit from our free holistic health services. Patients frequently experience increased relaxation, symptom reduction and an overall sense of well-being with each or a combination of therapies. … If you wish to take advantage of one or more of these free therapies while you are hospitalized at SwedishAmerican, ask your nurse or physician to request our services. Holistic health practitioners are available during the day Monday through Friday, as well as weekends and holidays. Services are also available at select outpatient departments.”

SAH also knows the benefits of canines. The Caring Canines Program utilizes trained therapy dogs and their handlers in direct contact with patients in individual and group settings.

And there’s research to back up their use—reduced stress and pain levels, lower blood pressure and shorter hospital stays.

All possible because of the foresight of SwedishAmerican’s leadership team and the efforts of Cathy Keith.

Don’t Forget: Reiki Energy International will hold its second annual REI Health Fair & Expo at the Clock Tower Resort Saturday, July 9, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., in the Wallingford Center.

The REI Health Fair and Expo will feature more than 65 heath-conscious exhibitors showcasing healthy services and products as well as offering symposiums about current health issues. The free fair will include local and national businesses and is designed to build awareness of healthy living opportunities in our community.

The symposiums will be held in a separate meeting room throughout the day and will include the topics of “Herbs and Healthy Cooking,” “Organic Gardening,” “Reiki” and “Preventive Health.”

In-kind sponsors already secured for the REI Health Fair & Expo include The Rock River Times, the four Nutrition Works health care stores in the Rock River Valley, Maverick Media and WNTA Radio, Beth Ann Weis Salon & Spa and The Clock Tower Resort. Last year’s vendor space was sold out. Vendor fees for businesses start at $55. For vendor applications, visit: or call (815) 398-6326.

Richard Gubbe is an award-winning journalist, public relations specialist and Reiki Master Teacher. He is a long-time Rockford resident who has taught preventive health, visualization and Reiki at Rock Valley College since 2003.

From the June 29-July 5, 2011 issue

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