Add the coronavirus pandemic and Minnesotans with chronic and terminal illnesses are even more isolated

One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic has been the isolation experienced by so many people. Local psychologists report an increase in clients suffering from the anxiety and depression that such isolation can produce.

But there is an underreported but significant group that has been impacted even more severely by the pandemic and the resulting restrictions: people with life-threatening or chronic health conditions.

Imagine you are someone with cancer or debilitating diabetes, COPD or Parkinson’s disease. And then imagine not being able to leave your home, except for regular doctor’s appointments – many of which have been online – as you confront your illness and the fear of contracting COVID-19.

These people are customers of Pathways, A Healing Center.

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Our organization was founded in 1988 to provide free wellness and complementary health services and programs such as acupuncture, grief circles, massage and guided movements to people living with life-threatening and chronic illnesses.

As the early days of the pandemic forced our doors to close, we grappled with what to do as we feared our customers would experience a high level of isolation. In my 13 years as CEO of Pathways, we have never had a crisis as large as the one we have faced. Fortunately, with the full support of our employees and Board of Directors, we have been able to launch a virtual service platform for our complimentary wellness and complementary health services and programs.

I was glad we could switch, but worried: would this meet the needs of our unusual customer base? Before the pandemic, our research showed that our personal services significantly improved people’s quality of life by reducing pain, anxiety and fatigue.

NAfter two and a half years of a pandemic that never seems to end – with each new variant more transmissible than the previous one – we wanted to understand how effectively we were meeting the needs of our customers.

New research conducted by a University of Arizona researcher on the effectiveness of Pathways’ virtual service offerings shows that our virtual programs (tai chi, meditation, writing for healing, and life coaching, to name a few) match those that offered in person (energy healing, yoga) achieved equally strong results and had a positive and significant impact on people’s quality of life.

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The new research — currently being peer-reviewed and due to be published later this year — showed Pathways participants progressed from depressed to happy and overwhelmed to empowered, plus 16 other before-and-after pairings such as hopeless to hopeful and broken too whole. Positive changes like these are associated with healthy lifestyle changes for disease management, pain relief, and fewer hospital admissions.

Tim Thorpe

Tim Thorpe

The researchers concluded: “The successful shift to virtual programming with similar outcomes of positive change suggests that a blended model of virtual and in-person programming could in the future expand the reach of inclusive services beyond the limitations of previous programming.”

BBut it’s not just in research; our numbers also tell the same story. In 2020, 4,088 services were planned through Pathways’ virtual programming platform; 5,345 services were planned in 2021 – a 31% increase in virtual service usage. And so far in 2022, that trend continues, with an 18% increase this June compared to last June.

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“Pathways gave me a space to be with other people who were also suffering, learning and healing,” said Kate Jackson, a cancer survivor and former Pathways participant who switched careers to become a health and wellbeing coach after her cancer diagnosis and now teaches Pathways courses. “Accessibility is key. People with chronic and terminal illnesses often feel uncomfortable – but virtual services mean they don’t have to leave their homes to stay connected and get support and care.”

As the final phase of the pandemic continues to escalate, it’s important to let people with chronic or life-threatening illnesses who are feeling the effects of isolation know that they are not alone. And that a free resource is available to them right here at

In person or online, we are – and will – be there for you.

Tim Thorpe is Managing Director of Pathways, A Healing Center.

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