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October is Pastor and Clergy Appreciation Month

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October is Pastor and Clergy Appreciation Month and we are so grateful for our chaplains and our entire faith community who are living God’s love and helping our patients, families and staff find wholeness and hope. The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped their important work as they have found creative ways to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of the people they serve.

Chaplain Cathi Ruiz, who cares for hospice patients, explains that families have much higher anxiety because they are worried about allowing family and friends to visit. Her work now includes counseling families on the risks and benefits of allowing visitors for their loved ones who are nearing end-of-life.

Hospice Chaplain Cathi Ruiz

But there have been some benefits from the challenge of COVID-19. Cathi cares for families in their homes and covers a wide geographic area. With virtual visits, it is easy to visit with the patient and family at their most opportune time. Cathi also recalls a situation where her patient was riding in the car at the start of their virtual visit. She asked if they wanted to reschedule but the car ride turned out to be the perfect time. Cathi could see the scenery whiz by on the video screen as she talked with her patient and joked, “I think I’m getting car sick!”

“One of the nice things is that even after the pandemic we have new tools that we can continue to use,” says Mario DeLise, Director of Spiritual Care.

At the beginning of the pandemic, visitors at the hospital were almost entirely prohibited. Chaplains, who ordinarily go on rounds, visiting each patient room, created a system of working with nurses to identify patients who were able to talk on the phone. Then they brought in a supply of iPads to have available on each unit. “The tablets are much better than the phone because you are able to make eye contact and see the person you are talking with,” Mario explains. “This is especially important for family members, when they can actually see their loved one in the hospital.”

Chaplain Jocelyn Banks

For Jocelyn Banks, finding ways to “let the love come through the mask” has been her mission. Standing at the patient’s door, singing over the intercom, and praying through the glass are all methods she has used to care for her patients. She is also not letting the fear of COVID-19 interfere with her work. “If a patient reaches out, I’m not going to back away,” Jocelyn says.

The pandemic has also brought our chaplains and faith community closer together. Prior to the pandemic, clergy from the community were essentially free to visit their parishioners in the hospital at any time. With COVID-19 restrictions, hospital chaplains are assisting with technology and helping to coordinate visits. “Before, we might not have been as involved in routine visits,” Mario says. “This situation has strengthened our relationships with clergy.”

Chaplain Mario DeLise

Mario recalls witnessing a Catholic priest perform last rites as a faithful patient lie peacefully on the hospital bed while a nurse, wearing full protective equipment, held a phone receiver to the patient’s ear. The priest spoke over the phone as he stood solemnly in the hall with his hand on the window of the patient’s room. COVID -19 has challenged humanity on every level, even testing sacred rituals the faithful have relied on for centuries.

The pandemic has limited the physical presence between people, but it cannot contain the spirit or prevent the comfort of God as our chaplains and pastors continue to do their sacred work. Thank you to all those who provide spiritual and emotional care. Your work is essential for us all.