"These are not alternative therapies, which means 'instead of.' These work with traditional medicine to aid healing."
by Janet Hurley . photo by Matt Rose
Asheville is something of an alternative-medicine mecca, with a yoga studio practically on every block. Still, you don’t necessarily expect to find much alternative healing happening at a mainstream hospital—much less the region’s largest, Mission Hospital. Until now. In 2008, Mission’s then-CEO Joseph Damore steered the hospital toward opening an Integrative Healthcare Services department. He hired Lourdes Lorenz, a former critical care nurse with a master’s degree in integrative healthcare, to head up the department, which threw open its doors in August 2009. Damore resigned last fall after months of controversy over hospital-physician relations. But the new department—which offers treatments like aromatherapy, massage therapy and biofeedback, and has a full-time pet therapist on staff—is now finally in full swing. “I want health care professionals to return to the reason they got into this in the first place—the patient,” Lorenz says.
When Damore approached her to start Integrative Health Services, Lorenz, 51, knew all of her life experience had come together. Born in Cuba, she was raised in the U.S. with 13 brothers and sisters, moving often to accommodate her father’s medical career. She didn’t follow in her father’s footsteps—at first. Instead, she tapped her way to New York in hopes of a stage career and was hired, in the early ‘70s, to do public relations for Radio City Music Hall. She discovered she was good at handling people and crisis through teamwork—perhaps what prompted her to enter critical care nursing. From direct care she moved into administration, first at a hospital in Orlando, and then for a group of cardiologists there. Then she took a job as director of a critical care unit at St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis. Lorenz first saw Asheville in 1989 and says the mountains “grabbed her soul.” She returned in 2005.
The new department’s staff of seven currently works in Mission’s Heart Center, and by 2011, they’ll open a spa-like room in Mission’s Cancer Center. Lorenz is board certified in advanced holistic nursing and has trained more than 110 staff, mostly nurses, in complementary health modalities such as healing touch, biofeedback, guided imagery and focused breathing techniques. Lorenz stresses the term complementary. “These are not alternative therapies, which means instead of,” she says. “These work with traditional medicine to aid healing.” One of her biggest challenges is not convincing patients of the effectiveness of such treatments, but overcoming skepticism on the part of fellow hospital staffers. Lorenz does this in part through offsite retreats. In the last year, more than 330 hospital staff have attended retreats to experience integrative health modalities firsthand.
By early next year, integrative health services will be offered on an outpatient basis, but, she says, they won’t compete with area practitioners. “I want to meet with local providers of these services to see how we can work together,” Lorenz says. “I believe that there is abundance for everyone.”