As medical facilities restrict visitors and ration protective gear amid the coronavirus pandemic, more hospital chaplains have been forced to do their job at a distance, while ministering to an onslaught of weary patients, families, and health care staff.
“Due to supply shortages of masks, this means that isolation rooms may involve phone calls, notes, letters, a wave through the door rather than (a chaplain being) inside the room,” said Heidi Greider, manager of spiritual care at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Though individual institutions ultimately determine their own policies, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention play a factor. CDC guidance issued in February urged facilities to limit visitors, and as the outbreak has worsened, hospitals with COVID-19 patients have continued to tighten restrictions, including on chaplains.
Tim Kinnersley, lead chaplain at Northside Hospital Cherokee in Canton, Georgia, just got word this week that his hospital put a hold on all in-person chaplain visits to reduce the number of potential carriers coming in and out of the facility.
His case is not an anomaly. Another chaplain recalled how over two weeks her hospital went from allowing any guests to only permitting visits in end-of-life situations. In some cases, even medical staff are limited to one or two per room when the patient is known to be infected.
As the pandemic spread, CT heard reports of chaplains losing access to facilities—hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and prisons—across the country, including in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Florida, Texas, and Kansas.
COVID-19 represents an unprecedented burden on the health care system and patients themselves, often isolated from family members and left wondering about their fate as researchers try to better understand the new disease.
“My chaplains know that a big part of their calling in this time is to be present and encourage everyone they encounter,” said Greider in Seattle, an early epicenter for coronavirus in the US. “Their calm demeanor, smiles, and even laughter are needed in this time.” Whether or not they are allowed to minister bedside, chaplains are in demand more than ever.
Chaplains are used to fast-paced, high-stress environments in trauma bays and emergency rooms, and some chaplaincy programs even use mock pandemic scenarios as practice. From the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, chaplains have sat on task forces assembled to address the virus.
“Chaplains are trained health care professionals,” Brent Bond, senior director of chaplaincy for the North American Mission Board (NAMB), told CT on Friday. “Many have gone through extensive training to be prepared for situations like this.”
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Source: Christianity Today