Chaplains are “uniquely positioned to serve as a critical patient care team member during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Amy Marcum, chief mission officer of the Great Lakes Group at Cincinnati-based Bon Secours Mercy Health.
“A chaplain’s training has prepared him or her to assist our patients and their loved ones, as well as our care providers and associates, during times of crisis,” Marcum says. The following are some examples:
• Chaplains offer caregivers someone to turn to for words of comfort. “These are anxious times. Chaplains are providing a calm presence and a quiet strength for the rest of the healthcare team and workers,” Marcum observes. Clinicians are working long hours with limited resources and large patient volumes while making difficult decisions. “Being available and helping care providers put situations into a larger context is valuable,” Marcum notes.
• Chaplains are directly involved in ethics consults. “Their training and skills complement those of the caregivers and ethicists,” Marcum says.
Chaplains are trained to deal with emotions and help people come to grips with the reality of a situation. There may be times when the discussion centers on end-of-life care. “Chaplains are trained to adapt their prayers and words of comfort to the person’s needs and faith perspective,” Marcum adds.
• Chaplains facilitate phone or FaceTime conversations between the family and clinicians. COVID-19 presents the added challenge of strict visitation restrictions. “As a result, loved ones or even clergy are often not able to be present during the final days,” Marcum says.
• Chaplains help family members understand difficult decisions that must be made. “Chaplains bridge communication gaps,” Marcum says. Sometimes, this means asking clarifying questions on behalf of the patient or family.
For instance, a chaplain can help interpret what a clinician is saying in this manner: “Dr. Smith, since I am not clinical, I want to be sure I understand what you are saying. What I think I hear you saying is that their mom is very sick, the providers have tried several interventions, and at this time her body is not responding to them. You and the other treating physicians recommend discontinuing these aggressive means, and providing her comfort and time for the family to have precious moments with her. Is that correct?”
The ability of a chaplain to de-escalate anger and sadness is essential in any healthcare scenario. “Chaplains engage or ask questions to unlock hidden emotion and feelings,” Marcum adds.