NORTH TAMPA — Look closely and patients at University Community Hospital may notice some changes.
They've been subtle: a spiritual healing concert, an absence of pork and shellfish in the cafeteria, a few more chaplains walking the halls.
If it seems a bit more religious, that's because it is.
In September, University Community Health joined the Adventist Health System. The not-for-profit health care organization — which now includes UCH, UCH-Carrollwood and Pepin Heart Hospital & Dr. Kiran C. Patel Research Institute — emphasizes Jesus Christ at the center of its care. Another Adventist hospital is being built in Wesley Chapel.
Pulling from Seventh-day Adventists' 19th century roots, the organization focuses on treating not only patients' illnesses, but also their minds.
"People need both spiritual balance and physical balance," said John Harding, the president and CEO of University Community Health/Florida Hospital Tampa Bay region. "It's our health care philosophy and the reason why we are in health care today."
In January, the hospital held its first "healing" concert with Kansas City musician Janalea Hoffman. As part of her "music therapy," Hoffman uses a piano, violin and other instruments to comfort patients by lowering stress and easing pain.
"It's part of a whole dimension of providing an environment of healing," said Peter Bath, the regional vice president of mission for Florida Hospital-University Community Health Tampa. "Music is a holistic dimension of our ministry of serving the whole person."
University Community Hospital, with a campus in Carrollwood and another near the University of South Florida, where Pepin is also located, plans to keep similar events coming, such as working with community choirs and artists to bring creative and local forms of healing to its patients.
The hospital also plans to increase the amount of spiritual guidance available by adding more chaplains and encouraging nurses to pray with patients, if both feel comfortable, Harding said.
"When patients come to a hospital they may lack hope because they know they are sick," Harding said. "But if they have hope, then we know the convalescence is better."
Part of the hospital's approach to treating the whole body includes changes in the cafeteria. Gone are the pork, shellfish and any meat Seventh-day Adventists deem "unclean." Taking their place? Fruits and vegetables.
"Our cafeteria and food service is moving toward a plant-based diet," Harding said. "That is the antidote to the challenges of obesity; embracing what is healthy and moving forward with that."
And hospital officials hope to spread that message beyond their own walls.
"We've only been here six months so we are still getting to know the community," Harding said. "But we are focused on getting into the community and making sure the people around us are healthy."
Mixing hospitals and religion isn't a new concept.
St. Joseph's Hospitals in Tampa and Lutz are just a few examples of local facilities that emphasize spiritual things.
Stemming from its Catholic background, crucifixes can be found in all the rooms at St. Joseph's, daily Mass is offered and many hospital meetings begin with prayer.
"Religion permeates all aspects of our hospital in terms of how we treat our patients," said Isaac Mallah, president and chief executive of St. Joseph's Hospital.
"It's the fiber and being of what this organization is about."
But like UCH, St. Joseph's, which is part of the Baycare Health System that also includes South Florida Baptist Hospital in Plant City among others, is not just for those of one faith.
"Being supportive of diversity is also something rooted in our culture," said Sister Patricia Shirley, vice president of mission integration at St. Joseph's Hospital.
"We do bring an element of faith, but our faith is nondenominational," said UCH's Bath. "It is about meeting people where they are."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2442.