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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

To cope, they often return to their own advice: sharing concerns with colleagues and taking a moment to recenter themselves. Weiner runs in the morning and sometimes blasts a favorite Hebrew song at home or in his car, praising God as good. Kelley practices reiki, a Japanese form of alternative medicine known as energy healing.

Through it all, the chaplains must summon their spiritual strength to provide the same to others.

On one particularly tough day at Cedars-Sinai, the words of a COVID-19 patient in his 90s tumbled around nurse Katz's mind: "This is the worst day of my entire life." Katz was reaching her breaking point. Then Kelley approached "with her kind eyes" and asked how she was doing.

"It was nice to speak to someone about it, even if it was briefly for two minutes," Katz said. "It seemed like she really cared."

The nurse started a support session among her colleagues to share encouragement through group text messages. Her manager checks in regularly. When she's off work, Katz decompresses by spending time with her husband and toddler. "You lean on everything that you can," she said.

But the pandemic still permeates her emotional wall. Since their first interaction, Katz said Kelley regularly checks on her, often reminding the nurse how proud her chaplain grandfather would be of her work.

An Orthodox Jew, Katz hadn't expected to be drawn to a Christian chaplain. But Kelley reminds her of God's presence, and their close connection has strengthened Katz's relationship with God.

 

"It's really beautiful that we can ignore all the societal standards and just be able to lean on each other," Katz said. "Spirituality doesn't have to be about the specifics of religion. It's just about how we're all connected — [and] there for each other."

A strengthened healthcare staff and caring chaplains means patients benefit, too. Katz said patients perk up after the chaplains' visits, reminded of God's love and the feeling "that they're in good hands."

As hospitalizations for COVID-19 decline, for Katz and Kelley and so many others, the work continues. So do their routines.

Each time Kelley leaves a COVID-19 patient's bedside, she practices her wind-down ritual, removing each layer of PPE and praying once again.

This time, she asks God to stay in the room.

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