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Healing Hospitals: A Different Approach

Updated on May 1, 2017

How Healing Works

Healing is the central ethos of any health care environment. That is, at least, how it should be in an ideal system. The modern hospital model is not ideal, and as such, hospitals have fallen off track in many ways, losing sight of the concept of healing. The reasons for this shift in focus are varied and mostly unintentional. The problem has gotten so far advanced that so called “healing hospitals” have emerged, naming themselves so blatantly for their central purpose as to keep that purpose fresh in the minds of all involved. This form of hospital aims to refocus the health care system to allow true healing to occur on a multifaceted level within each patient.

The Components of a Healing Hospital

According to Shelly and Miller (2006), the Christian philosopher, Paul Tillich, described six core facets of a human being that need to be addressed in order for true healing to occur: mechanical, chemical, biological, psychological, spiritual, and historical. If any one of these facets is overlooked by health care providers, then the patient’s healing will be incomplete and it cannot be said that the best possible care was given. Healing hospitals aim to return to this multifaceted model of treatment, addressing not just the physical, but the emotional and spiritual as well.

The environment of a hospital is disheartening to many patients. The noise, the sterile fluorescent lighting, the metallic instruments, and the constant awareness that the only reason hospitals exist is to handle bad things. The effect on the spirit that many patients experience can be severe, and as Eberst (2008) points out, spiritual wellbeing is directly correlated to positive patient outcomes. Therefore, healing hospitals are built in a manner that protects patients from unnecessary exposure to the public and which facilitates rapid transportation and communications of staff to limit all the frustrations associated with interdepartmental care.

Barriers to a Healing Environment

Money and mindset are at the center of the challenges faced by healing hospitals. Funding is difficult to raise due to the fact that many things healing hospitals consider a necessity, others see as a luxury. Special elevators to move patients away from visitors creates a safe space for patients who may not wish to be seen in their time of vulnerability. Yet, many do not see the direct link to positive patient outcomes associated with such feeling of safeness (Dunn, 2010).

The point where money and mindset intersect is called value. What health care workers, patients, and families all value does not always line up with what evidence shows is the most effective form of care. Budgeting concerns and lack of understanding of the true value of a healing environment are the primary barrier with regard to the attitudes of the health care community (Dunn, 2010).

Practical barriers exist as well such as the current nursing crisis. Nurses are often overworked and understaffed; there is a reason they rush around, yell down halls, and are brusk with patients. These things have no place in a healing hospital, and as such create a deficit in available nurse-hours and necessary nurse-hours to perform every duty the hospital needs (Dunn, 2010).

Biblical Foundations of the Philosophy

“Radical Loving Care” is the term used by Eberst (2008) to describe the method by which medical staff can overcome their self-focus and burn out and offer unconditional support for their patients even through hardship. This idea seems to be taken right out of the Bible, as a biblical definition of love is one which does not change with circumstances but rather endures all things (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 English Standard Edition). The emphasis of love is extended also to the staff themselves, as medical personnel in healing hospitals are encouraged to engage in self-care and stress reduction to improve their mood state and thus their functionality.


By shifting the focus of the clinical environment to one of biblical loving care, healing hospitals aim to resolve the discrepancy between what hospitals should be and what they have become. Healing hospitals follow a clear teleology and leave little room for deviation, accounting for all of the needs of the patients and even the staff, from the physical to the spiritual. While more research is needed to determine how well healing hospitals will succeed in overcoming the pragmatic financial barriers they face, the theory behind them is certainly sound.


Dunn, L. (2010).Creating healing environments: a challenge for nursing. Online Journal Of Rural Nursing Health Care, 10(2), 3-4.

Eberst, L. (2008). Arizona medical center shows how to be a healing hospital. Health Progress, 89(2), 77-79. Retrieved on June 22, 2016 from docview/274635012?accountid=7374

Shelly, J. A. & Miller, A. B. (2006). Called to Care: A Christian Worldview for Nursing. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.


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