By Mary Davis, BCS, MTS
Visiting a young adult patient hospitalized for his ongoing cystic fibrosis treatment, the chaplain found him engaged in keeping up with his employment through his laptop. Though his initial response to a chaplain visit was somewhat tepid, when the chaplain mentioned that he might be interested in accessing some spiritual care apps and websites that had been gathered by the department to share with others for healing, he showed interest. Receiving the iSpirit brochure following the visit, he eagerly began reviewing the listings, and engaged the chaplain with more interest. On a subsequent admission, he requested a chaplain visit and wanted to know “if there were any new updates to that spiritual app list.”
Use of technology within spiritual care visitation is an effective approach and alternative for patients and families in isolation or who prefer corresponding through electronic means. It also serves to enhance experiences for patients and families during times of serious illness and death by providing on-the-spot spiritual applications such as music, images, prayers and other rituals resulting in memorable and dignified experiences for the patients and families through the sharing of their faith tradition practices.
CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System’s Spiritual Care Department recently implemented the iSpirit program. The purpose of the iSpirit program is twofold: integration of technology within spiritual care delivery at the bedside or in outreach visits for immediate access to helpful resources related to spiritual care practice, and an intranet website for CHRISTUS Santa Rosa’s associates containing emotional, spiritual and social resources to enhance their own lives and ministry.
The iSpirit program grew out of a CPE residency group’s experience of communicating with a member of the peer group when she was unexpectedly hospitalized and relatively isolated. Calling, texting, and sharing music CDs proved so helpful to her that it occurred to the group that such outreach would likely be equally advantageous and healing for others who were hospitalized and possibly isolated from their usual supports and resources.
Thus began a brainstorming session of ideas that would prove to be expansive and multi-faceted. Realizing that a more focused, simple start was needed, the group moved toward gathering websites and apps to add to the spiritual care intranet page, and seeking funds to secure technology for chaplains to use in their ministry. Initially a CPE resident was retained for a period of time with support from our hospital’s foundation to build the intranet website, research the best materials for use in our system, and submit grant applications for future funding. The information for the intranet grew to be extensive enough to merit its own page, named the iSpirit page. It contains information related to in-house spiritual care resources, links to daily devotions, guided meditations, and social services, reflections for use in meetings, healing modalities, religious organizations, community-based programs, educational/spiritual video presentations, Scripture and interfaith resources.
A staff chaplain now works to update and maintain the intranet page and revise the iSpirit materials used by staff chaplains. The foundation supported the purchase of iPads to be used by chaplains at each site within the CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System. Some chaplains remain on a technology learning curve, while others have become adept with integration of its use in ministerial practice.
The following are examples of how technology has been used to enrich the patients’ spiritual and healthcare experiences at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa through chaplains’ use of personal smart phones and iPads.
- Family members, having made the difficult decision to withdraw care for their mother, shared with the chaplain her love of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Within less than a minute, the chaplain was able to access the song version of the Chaplet, with the use of YouTube. The family, nurse, and chaplain prayed together, and the patient took her last breath at the very end of the Chaplet prayer. This was a blessing for all who were present and, most importantly, for the soul of the patient.
- In another instance, when a chaplain visited a 15-year-old girl hospitalized after her kidney transplant, the patient said she missed “rocking out” to K-Love, the Christian music station. The chaplain immediately pulled up the K-Love application on her phone and the patient beamed with joy as she sang a few praise and worship songs with the chaplain. The patient commented, “the songs we heard helped me through the next few days of my hospital stay.”
- Another example involved a 14-year-old girl hospitalized for meningitis who was unable to communicate or walk. The chaplain learned that the patient was a big fan of the pop star Justin Bieber and played YouTube videos of the singer using an iPhone. The patient immediately responded with a big smile, and began moving her hands and making gestures of happiness. Through the music, the chaplain was able to connect with the patient who was unable to talk, and helped bring the patient a feeling of community and moments of joy, which contributed to her spiritual healing.
- A chaplain visiting an elderly patient learned that she had not been able to attend church services in some time due to her illness and frailty. The chaplain asked if the patient would like to pray some prayers from her denomination specific to health and healing. The chaplain, after receiving an affirmative response, accessed prayers from an interfaith application for use with the ill, choosing prayers listed there from the Lutheran tradition and worship services, and shared them with the patient. The chaplain later printed some of the prayers in large print for the patient’s use at home.
- A patient being discharged mentioned her desire to quit smoking; her sister stated they would do so together, and wondered if there were any support groups to assist them. The chaplain “googled” information, and was able to send them home with a list of support groups in the area, as well as tips for getting started on their own, including seeking the advice of their physician.
A future goal is to have a laptop with a webcam that will be secured to a Computer on Wheels station (COW) that can be checked out by patients during their hospital stay enabling them to explore various healing and spiritual resources and to assist with spiritual and wellness goal setting for successful outcomes during and after their hospital stay. The Spiritual Care Department at each site will also be equipped with a workstation that will include a webcam enabling chaplains to connect and perform spiritual assessments with patients via video chat to meet the needs of those patients who prefer corresponding through this type of medium.
Knowledge and use of technology within spiritual care visitation may also carry over into the patients’ spiritual practices at home and in their community. In this way, the program will extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ and has the potential to have a far-reaching, lasting effect in the lives of the patients and families. The iSpirit program at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa meets an ever-growing need and expectation of patients and families and is reflective of the culture and times in which we live and serve. It is incumbent upon spiritual care providers to stay current with patients’ needs, available resources and growing trends so that we can continue to “meet them where they are” and provide meaningful, timely spiritual care support.
Mary Davis, director of spiritual care and CPE supervisor at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System in San Antonio, TX, is a member of the NACC’s Certification Commission.