APRIL 2021 – American Holistic Nurses Association

A collective sadness has befallen the Paci c Northwest as the holistic healing community is reeling from the loss of one of its most sacred spaces for self-care and spiritual rejuvenation. The climate-induced wild res that ravished the West Coast in 2020 badly damaged the revered Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center. This off-the- grid, worker-owned cooperative has been regionally known for its revitalizing hot springs and gourmet organic vegan and vegetarian food. Located in Oregon’s Cascade Range, and nestled among the mountains along the Breitenbush River, the hot springs sits at an elevation of 2,225 feet. For centuries people have gathered around this natural sanctuary to enjoy its healing effects and health bene ts from the soothing waters while experiencing the sanctity of the surrounding forest.

There are more than 30 ancient geothermal springs, rich with minerals, that have been used for a millennium by the local Kalapuya, Wasco, and Molalla peoples for medicinal purposes and spiritual ceremonies (Field, 2018). It is an area that has a perceivable energy, where people have gathered, regardless of their af liation or mission, to enjoy the gifts of the land. It is the sustainable utilization of these resource-rich resources that has allowed this area to ourish as a healing retreat. The current environmental stewards and caretakers of the retreat center use the Breitenbush River, a tributary of the North Santiam, to operate a hydroelectric generator and a geothermal heat pump to power and heat all the on-site facilities.

Holistic Health Retreat Center

Late summers in Oregon are commonly ushered in with a slight chill to the air and a gradual fading of the leaves, which drives locals to the welcoming warm waters of Breitenbush. In an average year, Breitenbush attracts more than 35,000 guests to the natural mineral springs, wellness retreats, and holistic living workshops that are offered. This year the COVID-19 pandemic posed new challenges and the cooperative had to rethink the communal aspects of their facilities. Just over a month after successfully opening to guests with new COVID-19 safety protocols in place, historic wild res ravaged more than 1 million acres and displaced more than 40,000 people in Oregon.

Lightning strikes and seasonal wind gusts combined to start and fuel the wild re that tore through Breitenbush. At the height of the calamity, with visibility decreased to just a few feet, Breitenbush was hastily evacuated as the wild res blanketed the retreat center with thick smoke. Unfortunately, the healing grounds of the retreat were not spared. In a matter of hours, the wild res destroyed many of the structures of this historic site and irreparably altered the landscape. The res decimated more than half of their existing structures, including facilities that housed a yoga studio, a massage therapy center, and a spiritual sanctuary.

Planetary Changes Affect the Local Climate

We can see changes in the planetary climate and experience them as they cascade down to affect us and our communities. In Oregon, over the last 100 years, local temperatures near the Breitenbush Retreat have increased an average of 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit, while inversely, precipitation levels have steadily decreased (EPA, 1998). This combination of higher, drier temperatures with a reduction in ambient humidity can result in the conditions that favor uncontrolled wild re outbreaks. While some wild res are caused by human negligence, the one that ravished Breitenbush was a result of natural forces energized by our changing climate.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set an acceptable level of air pollutants and uses an Air Quality Index which ranks particulate levels on a color scale from Green: “Good,” to Red: “Unhealthy,” to Maroon: “Hazardous.” The nearby city of Portland, Oregon not only surpassed red, but went to Maroon and stayed there for almost a week. More than 2 million residents were ordered to shelter-in-place and avoid outside activities as a perilous smoke cloud enveloped the region. Air quality affects all life and while most humans have the luxury of sheltering in domiciles to avoid unhealthy air conditions, vulnerable persons and wildlife cannot. The hazardous air of the 2020 wild res raised a new consciousness about the ongoing impact of climate change and air quality issues in an area of the country that doesn’t normally have to worry about such things. Local government of cials referred to the wild res as “a wakeup that climate change was affecting Oregon” and “a full-on disaster siren that climate change is fully here” (Multnomah County, 2020). Change is inevitable, but unfettered changes that negatively impact our environment will ultimately disrupt the entire web of life and its inextricable connections. As we are embraced in a symbiotic feedback with all life on Earth, planetary health can directly mimic our own internal environment and microbiome. Holistic nurses who take into account all aspects of a client’s health can understand and digest that humans, ora, animals, mycelium, and our communities are part of planetary holism and play a part in planetary health. Acting in congruence with our holistic principles (where the mind, body, and spirit are all honored) will lead us to places like Breitenbush that mirror our internal values and health. Wild res can burn inside us, as well, forcing a re-awakening and re-seeding. Just like the lodgepole pine tree requires re for its seed to be able to sprout, so do we need to question how or why we act in order to burn out old, stagnant ideas that no longer serve us. In re ecting on living in this changing world, we can choose to live life more holistically and support what directly enhances our health and wellness. We need to continue to do our part to recognize our own actions that contribute to the negative aspects of a changing environment.

Reflections We, as holistic nurses, are guided by our Scope and Standards of Practice to carry out our tasks in an environmentally safe and healthy manner (ANA & AHNA, 2019, p.110). We are to engage in self-care practices that restore the soul and recharge our well of empathy for our patients and for ourselves. With the destruction of Breitenbush, it feels that one more tool has been stripped away from our praxis of sustainable self-care and rejuvenation. It is even more painful to accept that human- induced climate change may have been responsible for robbing us of this precious sacred place. This place, and so many more like it, are part of a quilt work of planetary energy alignments; where humans can go to feel the togetherness and holism with Earth. It means so many things to a variety of people, and has throughout time. The eclectic group of people that it attracted, who sought renewal through self-re ection and healing through communal support, made Breitenbush one of the best kept secrets of the Paci c Northwest. For holistic nurses, Breitenbush holds a special space. This place has held time and conquered dormancy and ruggedness,and will again overcome re and destruction. Despite the level of devastation wrought, the Breitenbush worker co-op is currently in the process of regrouping and rebuilding. With a spirit of renewal, reconnecting, and re-awakening the self and the land, Breitenbush will combine efforts of its residents and local community to restore a revered holistic healing center in the heart of Oregon’s wild forests. They aim to reopen the front gates to visitors in the summer of 2021.

Rebuilding Efforts

The Oregon Holistic Nurses Association regularly holds their annual state conference at Breitenbush and graciously sent relief funds to help with the initial rebuilding effort. If you are interested in learning more about the rebuilding efforts at Breitenbush or wish to offer a donation, please visit their website at

American Nurses Association (ANA) & American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA). (2019). Holistic nursing: Scope and standards of practice (3rd ed.). ANA & AHNA.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (1998). Climate change and Oregon. cgi?Dockey=40000PSY.txt
Field, M. (2018). Breitenbush Hot Springs. The Oregon Encyclopedia.
Multnomah County. (2020, September 16). Wild re pollution obliterates Portland bad air records, and the smoke hasn’t cleared yet. https://

Abigail Hall, MSN, RN, HNB-BC is a clinical staff nurse working on a cardiovascular unit in a hospital. She has a master’s degree in nursing with a focus on leadership and is part of the unit’s nursing scholar program, promoting evidence- based practice. Abigail has led multiple hospital- wide programs, chairs the nursing quality and holistic nurse council, and started nursing grand rounds at her institution. She is an innovator and a thought leader. She loves yoga, hiking, cooking, and spending time with family.

Christobal Mozingo Goodwin, MSN, RN, CDE, HNB-BC is an Inpatient Care Coordinator with Kaiser Permanente in Hillsboro, Oregon. He is a holistically trained and certifed nurse with more than 30 years of combined healthcare, wellness, and workplace safety experiences. He holds several certifcations including Healthcare Environmental Manager and Diabetes Educator. His holistic modalities include therapeutic massage, chakra spiritual healing, and Reiki energy practice.


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