Over the past couple of years, I have participated on the CHA Pastoral Care Advisory Council (PCAC) whose membership consists of representatives of several Catholic healthcare systems, and whose charge is to act as a resource to CHA and NACC in their efforts to: identify and address significant issues in pastoral care within the Catholic health ministry; provide a forum for key pastoral care leaders within the Catholic health ministry to discuss important issues and how to share leading practices; and to offer guidance for CHA and NACC in their planning and development of resources and programs that support pastoral care.
Last year the PCAC identified three issues it planned to address: how to determine/measure quality in pastoral care, spiritual care staff structuring in these changing venues of delivering pastoral care, and communicating the value of spiritual care and chaplains within their settings. All three are critical to strengthening spiritual care within healthcare institutions. The first two issues align well with the NACC Strategic Goal I: to educate and support association members for the future of professional chaplaincy, as the PCAC members’ concern and focus are for chaplains, and the spiritual care services being rendered, to be present and effective in the emerging service settings across the continuum of care. I wrote about Goal I in the September-October Vision issue and that issue along with this current issue provides articles on these non-acute care settings.
The third issue of communicating the value of spiritual care and chaplains within their settings matches the NACC Strategic Goal II: to increase awareness of the value of chaplaincy among key constituencies. What are the best ways to do this among our professional colleagues and the executive decision-makers? The PCAC decided that, in order to better communicate the value of spiritual care and chaplains to executives and clinician colleagues within their healthcare settings, it would be important first to learn how these constituencies perceived the value of spiritual care. So, over the summer the PCAC developed two survey tools for these two constituencies groups, and these surveys were made available in early September to CHA’s email lists of executives (board member/trustee, CEO, CFO, COO, CMO, CNO) and clinical team members (physician, nurse, social worker, physical therapist, nutritionist, CNA). We were pleased by the percentage of participation from these groups and by the information we received. It will be helpful to us as we develop materials for these target audiences. Let me offer a couple of insights from the research.
One question the executives were asked was, “As we enter a new era of fiscal challenges and healthcare reform, professional chaplains are an important discipline in creating a better healthcare system. As a decision maker, what types of information regarding the role of chaplains do you want to have in your decision making?” They were offered seven examples, then space to write in others. The highest two examples noted were: integral role of spiritual care, especially in tending to the emotional needs of the clients we serve (80.7%) and positive influence on patient satisfaction (80.3%). The next two affirmed the importance of chaplains to the staff: support staff, especially during critical incidences (79.4%) and orientation, education and integration of staff in meeting spiritual care needs (75%). The item receiving the lowest percentage was impact/involvement in quality initiatives (60.4%). While this does not seem to lessen the importance of our role in such initiatives, it is not “top of mind” for the executives compared to the other ones noted. Learning these perceptions will be helpful to us. Hopefully, they confirm for you the importance of your profession and ministry.
One question the clinical team members were asked was: “When seeking assistance from spiritual care and professional chaplaincy, what are you asking for?” They were offered five examples, then space to write others. The highest two involved care for patients and families: supportive presence for patient and families (97.4%) and prayer or ritual for patient or family (83.9%). Again, for this group, staff care was very important: supportive presence for staff (72.5%). “Ethical questions/concerns” received a lower percentage (58.7%). Could this indicate that we are perceived as less proficient in addressing ethical issues, or perhaps, more accurately, is it that ethical concerns are not viewed as part of our responsibilities? Either way, this is good for us to consider as we make plans to better communicate who we are and what we do.
We look forward in the coming months to continue this PCAC work, and other initiatives to increase awareness of the value of chaplaincy among key constituencies.
If you or your institution is involved in a project to increase the understanding and value of chaplaincy, please let me know.
I look forward to hearing from you!
David Lichter, DMin, Executive Director