By Deirdre Manning, BCC
The position of director of pastoral care in an acute care hospital brings with it many challenges these days. Among the tall orders is making sure patients are seen by a chaplain. This simple and important goal was one that motivated Marie Coglianese, director of Loyola University Medical Center’s Pastoral Care Department, to create a program whose sole focus was striving to meet this aim.
Officially named the Initial Visitor Program, it was born of Ms. Coglianese’s hope in 1999 that every inpatient would be seen at least once before leaving LUMC. Thirteen years later, with the help of Sister Cyrilla Zarek, OP, this program has developed and grown, making the vision a reality as more LUMC patients are being welcomed, supported and informed that pastoral care services are available to them. Seeing every patient before he or she leaves remains a departmental goal of LUMC.
Sister Cyrilla Zarek, OP, consults with Xiomara Mendez-
Hernandez, OP, a CPE student, at Loyola University
Medical Center in Maywood, IL, near Chicago.
(photo courtesy of Loyola University Medical Center)
From 1999 until March of 2008, Sister Cyrilla was the primary Initial Visitor chaplain. In March 2008, Grace Gentle was handpicked by Ms. Coglianese for having the “heart” of a chaplain. Coglianese’s requirement for the role was that the person would have an innate ability to listen, support and be present to patients. By not requiring the Initial Visitor chaplains to be board certified, Marie was able to expand and creatively pursue her search for the “right” person.
Since joining the team, Ms. Gentle has helped the program expand, allowing for CPE students to shadow initial visitors as part of their training. In spring 2011, another initial visitor, Diana Durkin, joined the duo to further extend coverage in a hospital whose census is increasing.
Recently Ms. Coglianese and Sister Cyrilla, who was one of the first women chaplains to be certified through the NACC and a former CPE supervisor, agreed to an interview with Vision about Loyola’s Initial Visitor Program.
Q Marie, When did you begin dreaming and scheming about a way that every inpatient could be seen by a chaplain before leaving the hospital?
A Ms. Coglianese: It was in the spring of 1999. My staff and I had discussed in our department meetings the challenge of seeing every patient before they were discharged. We set this as a departmental goal. In my mind, I knew we needed a program beyond the role of the board certified staff chaplain to help us reach this aim.
More informationRead about the Initial Visitor Program at Loyola University Medical Center: click here
Q Then, in the summer of 1999, Sr. Cyrilla was hired to work part time, four days a week and to visit all new patients. Is that correct?
A Ms. Coglianese: Working alongside her certified chaplain colleagues who also made sure every new patient on their unit was seen at least once, Sr. Cyrilla initiated what has become the Initial Visitor Program.
The main goal of the program was to welcome and greet patients to the hospital on behalf of pastoral care. Representing the face and heart of the department, Sr. Cyrilla would bring her smile and warmth to every encounter. After asking permission to enter the room and to sit down, Sr. Cyrilla would inform the patient about pastoral care services, giving him or her a brochure and a prayer booklet. After this brief welcome and introduction, what would follow would be as different and varied as each patient.
Q Sister Cyrilla, How did patients react to your presence?
A Sister Cyrilla: Occasionally, patients would open up, sharing a loss or a life stressor, welcoming a listening presence. In these instances, I would be sure to make referrals to my fellow chaplains for follow-up visits.
Sometimes the response would be, “Sister, I’m not Catholic.” I would tell them: “This doesn’t make any difference. We’re all in this together.” I would try to clarify the patient’s religious status, as some patients were listed as “None” or “Other” which might have been an error. I asked Catholic patients if they would like to receive daily Communion from the volunteer eucharistic ministers. If a patient was not in the room or asleep, I would leave a “Sorry I missed you” card and the brochure and prayer booklet.
Q Did a patient ever refuse your visit?
A Sister Cyrilla: One man, who after hearing my introduction proceeded to tell me about his own grief and gripes with his Catholic upbringing, worked himself up so much so that he asked me to leave his room. I prayed for this man, and when he returned as an inpatient some time later, I paid him another visit. This time, he welcomed me to his room and was quite receptive to my visit.
Q Now that your initiative has expanded to include Grace and Diane, how do the three of you coordinate with the rest of the department?
A Sister Cyrilla: We participate in the staff’s daily huddles, sharing and receiving pertinent information about patients. These twice-daily team meetings are additional ways to ensure that the needs of patients and families are being met by the pastoral care department. We play a key role in these discussions, as we are the frontline of many patient and family encounters.
Q How have your own gifts contributed to your ministry?
A Sr. Cyrilla: Playfulness is one of my primary gifts. I feel I am able to activate this gift when visiting patients for the first time. I try to find an in with them. I also love the spontaneity of the program and the God of surprises!
Since this interview, Sr. Cyrilla retired from Loyola, leaving a stongly established Initial Visitor program in place. Diane Durkin has completed two units of CPE with plans to pursue certification. Loyola University Medical Center was welcomed to the Trinity Health Systems family.
NACC member Deirdre Manning is a board certified chaplain working as a full-time chaplain at a long-term acute care hospital as a Loyola/Trinity Health Systems employee in the Chicago area.