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Hospital chaplains embrace new role during the pandemic: caring for caregivers

Faith E. Pinho, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

"We all love it," she continued, noting that she usually chooses chamomile. "I don't think there's anyone who would turn down a cup of tea."

Devoting so much energy to supporting others can take a toll.

Jason Weiner, senior rabbi and director of Cedars-Sinai's Spiritual Care Department, said his caseload has tripled since the beginning of the pandemic.

One evening in December, he stayed up late helping another chaplain perform an Orthodox Jewish end-of-life ritual. Early the next morning, he was bombarded with more problems at work: navigating a family feud, processing the unexpected death of a young COVID patient and fielding complaints about observing holidays in the hospital. Then two more people died.

"Of course we question God. I don't know how you could not," Weiner said. "We see a lot of miracles, a lot of good things. But we see a lot of horrible things."

To weather any tests to their faith, chaplains must lean into their beliefs that God cares.

 

The Rev. Jeffrey Scheer girds himself with a three-part centering routine that begins before the Lutheran chaplain sets foot in Hoag Hospital. Strengthened from an early-morning devotional, the 59-year-old prays during his roughly 12-minute commute to work each day. As he enters the hospital office in Newport Beach, his eyes land on a painting of Jesus rescuing a lost sheep, from the biblical parable of the good shepherd.

"I always look at that and say, OK, that's a good reminder because how often can I be the sheep" that needs saving, Scheer said. "And sometimes, I'm being that shepherd that's trying to find someone else."

As some of the hidden helpers on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19, chaplains shore up support for an overstretched healthcare system — all while navigating the throes of the capricious coronavirus themselves.

"That's what we signed up for," Weiner said. "We're here for hard times."

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