Getting a pastoral care program off the ground

From finding resources to finding candidates

Surprisingly, not all hospitals have a pastoral care program. Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City is just starting up its program, says Glen Steenblik, LCSW, director of medical social work and psychology at the hospital.

Because it is in a very religious community, Steenblik says the hospital has had a lot of support from community clergy. "But when our children’s hospital benchmarking group sent out a survey asking what people were doing, we were one of the only ones without pastoral care," he says. "That gave us a real push to bring it to the next level." It took a year to get to the top of the budgetary pile, but in 1999, the program was put on the agenda, and a director of pastoral care was hired at the start of this year.

A long journey

Putting a program together has been a long journey, Steenblik says. A committee including community clergy representatives, nurses, and social workers has met every other month for more than two years. It has surveyed other hospitals within and outside of the medical group, Intermountain Health Care, in which Primary Children’s operates, he says.

The program was developed largely based on what others were doing. Richard Callaway, EdD, MDiv, director of pastoral care at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, agrees that there are benefits to looking at what other facilities are doing in creating a pastoral care program.

"In the South 20 years ago, Baptist Hospital in Birmingham, AL, was the place to look at," he says. "But it’s hard to benchmark something like this." He recommends finding a group of hospitals you compare your facility with in other areas and see what they do. Because it is a "soft" area, facilities that might be reluctant to share other information with you might be more willing to talk about what they do in the area of pastoral care.

The Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) in Schaumburg, IL, (see note at the end of this article, p. 45) the certifying body for chaplains, is another place to go for suggestions on what good pastoral care programs should include and how they should function, says Callaway. Teaching hospitals also offer some great programs to mimic, he adds.

The kinds of work the new director at Primary Children’s will oversee include holding worship services, training staff, and being available to patients and their families.

The committee also had to decide how "soft" or "hard" the referral process would be. Members decided that it would be very soft. The admission packet includes a section on whether there is a religious preference and if the patient or family wants a visit from a clergy member. Whether the section changes in the future will be up to the new chaplain, says Steenblik. Hard referrals will come with traumas, crises, and after a death.

Matching the candidate to the facility

Finding the right person for the job wasn’t difficult. The position was posted November 1999 through the APC, and the committee interviewed several good candidates. The University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City was conducting a search for a new director of pastoral care around the same time, and the two facilities shared ideas and even candidates’ names, he says. Final interviews included talks with parent groups, as well as the hospital administrator.

The interview process provided Steenblik with some good ideas about the program. For instance, candidates suggested an e-mail service for chaplains, a chaplain’s table in the cafeteria, and a pastoral newsletter. Another candidate said having one of the hospital television channels devoted to meditative and contemplative programming was a good idea.

Once your facility gets the program started, Callaway recommends getting the word out about the service to staff, as well as to patients. He speaks at employee orientations and tells all staff that it doesn’t take a physician or nurse to make a referral. "Housekeeping can make great referrals. They might see a mom crying in a room, call me, and I can go check on her. Those touches can say a great deal about the caring nature of a hospital."

And don’t start off trying to see every patient, he warns. "If you start off with an assumption that one chaplain will make rounds to all patients, you are putting together a program that isn’t feasible. It’s better to develop relationships with the staff that lead to opportunities for pastoral care. But balance it; you don’t want people to see you only with staff and never with patients."

"I came here five years ago and have been working almost the whole time to get this idea going," says Steenblik. "I had to be persistent, and I had to build support for the idea within the administration. But I got them to realize it was essential."

[For more information, contact:

• Glen Steenblik, LCSW, Director of Medical Social Work & Psychology, Primary Children’s Medical Center, Salt Lake City. Telephone: (801) 588-3605.

• Association of Professional Chaplains, 1701 Woodfield Road, Suite 311, Schaumburg, IL 60173. Telephone: (847) 240-1014. E-mail: info@professional chaplains.org.]