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Reiki Therapy Sees Early Success at Penn Wissahickon Hospice

Sharon-Civa-twoLast year, Sharon Civa, Entity Information Officer, Corporate Information Services, had a lifelong family friend who was admitted to the inpatient hospice unit at Penn Medicine at Rittenhouse. During the month that her friend was in the unit, Civa often visited and admired the work of the team caring for her. After her friend passed away, Civa wanted to give back to those who gave so much in their compassionate care.

“I’ve worked for hospice for 12 years, and I’ve always loved the work that they do,” said Civa. “I’m a big fan and supporter of hospice, but that’s what inspired me to become a volunteer.”

Sharon completed 16 hours of basic training in the volunteer program at Penn Wissahickon Hospice to be a patient visitor, as well as some specialty training sessions. Penn Home Care and Hospice Services has more than 100 volunteers doing a variety of services, including work in the office and spending time with patients both in the inpatient setting and in the community. “Caring for someone at the end of life stage can be hard,” said Civa. “It is very rewarding to help someone make that transition.”

Building on the therapy offerings already available, (including pet and music therapy), Civa joined other direct care staff in completing one of two pilot Reiki programs last year.

Reiki, a Japanese practice that can promote overall balance and wellness, can also support pain management and relieve stress and anxiety for hospice patients. Reiki is never delivered as a solution to any medical condition. Rather, it sometimes serves as a supplement to traditional treatment. For example, Reiki is offered at Penn Therapy and Fitness in Radnor and sometimes supports cancer care for patients at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Seeing Reiki’s success for patients here at Penn at Rittenhouse, Civa applied for a Penn Medicine CAREs grant so that additional volunteers can help meet the Reiki requests from hospice patients. Civa is now among 23 people – staff and volunteers – trained in Reiki.

Thanks to funding from Penn Medicine CAREs, ten existing patient volunteers, including two current employees, completed ten weeks of training, including four, two-hour supervised Reiki clinic sessions. The classes were held at Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse and the clinics were held at both Penn Rittenhouse and Park Pleasant Nursing Home. In exchange for the free Reiki training, the 10 volunteers all agreed to give four hours of Reiki monthly to patients for a year. 

Ellen Inglesby-Deering, BSW, volunteer coordinator, Penn Wissahickon Hospice, is ecstatic to see this available on a greater scale.

“It’s very exciting,” said Inglesby-Deering. “I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from patients, families and volunteers. Therapeutic touch is so beneficial for our patients.”

“We’ve had reactions of people we saw,” said Civa. “Some laugh, some cry, some talk, some are quiet, it’s totally personal to that person.” Civa mentioned a patient with advanced dementia who giggled after the treatment and then started having a conversation with her daughter. The daughter later commented that she had not been able to have a conversation this beneficial with her mother in over a year.

Much as with traditional medical treatments, patients cannot receive Reiki treatment without consenting first. Depending on the patient’s needs, one Reiki session can range from 10 to 30 minutes.

“The Penn Medicine CAREs support has helped us diversify in the areas we are able to support,” said Inglesby-Deering. For example, one of the Reiki volunteers is a respected minister from a local church who can perform Reiki in addition to pastoral services.

Civa and the other volunteers graduated last week as Reiki Practitioners in the first degree.  (There are four levels in the program. Completing all four makes the participant a Reiki master and qualified to teach the practice.) The Reiki School and Clinic will continue some clinical supervision to ensure the Penn volunteers maintain competency from the training.

“It gave me perspective for what we do every day,” said Civa. “Now we’re done and looking to put it into practice.” 

Civa and others hope to gain more funding to expand the Reiki offerings to more volunteers who can use this skill for Penn at Rittenhouse hospice patients, as well as move on to additional levels of the Reiki practice.

Penn Medicine’s CAREs Foundation Grant Program was established in January 2012 to support and recognize faculty, student, and/or staff efforts to improve the health of the community and increase volunteerism in community-based programs. These programs have addressed health disparities, provided care to seniors, administered free medical care to homeless in Philadelphia, helped fund medical care for uninsured and underinsured, and more.

Each quarter, the Foundation awards grants of up to $2000 per project to community and hospital-based programs on behalf of the employee(s) or Perelman School of Medicine student(s) who volunteer their time to support the program. The funding is eligible for expenses related to initiatives in community health improvement services, health professions education, subsidized health services, cash and in-kind contributions, or community building activities.

For more information and to apply, please visit and read about the program’s latest recipients on Inside Penn Medicine.


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