By James J. Castello
So what’s going on these days? Our economy is in the tank, and a record number of people are out of work – including many chaplains, as healthcare organizations slash their budgets to the bone. The cuts eventually come down to the Pastoral Care department where personnel salaries are 90% of the department’s budget. So what can we do about this situation – what can each chaplain and spiritual care director do? The answer is plenty!
Each of us needs to develop a plan to educate everyone in our organization on the value of chaplains – our education, the roles we play, the gifts we bring to the organization and the real spiritual, emotional and financial contributions we make throughout the year. The challenge is to educate and communicate our worth clearly, using the language of the people we talk to. This exercise is often referred to as the elevator speech, which is a one-minute talk you could give if you found yourself on an elevator with your CEO or another professional in your organization. It’s your chance to shine and really score points for our ministry. You can find this speech on the NACC website described below.
For example, when talking to administrators we need to show them the bottom-line impact of pastoral care in the organization. Studies show that good spiritual care by professional chaplains can improve patient satisfaction and referral scores. Chaplains also can keep the organization out of lawsuits by caring for and attending to very upset patients and family. A lawyer at a trauma center I worked for once told me that each lawsuit cost the hospital a million dollars, whether the suit is won or lost. Unfortunately, this is never captured in the financial statements of the organization, but I think it would be useful to document them.
When speaking to clinicians, it is essential to stress supporting the doctors’ and nurses’ patient-centered care. There are many ways to do this, but here are a few:
- Being a patient/family advocate by translating med-speak into terms they can comprehend after the shock wears off.
- Bringing hope to the hopeless and peace to the fearful.
- Calming patients, family and staff in chaotic situations by our presence and ability to listen to their stories, fears, emotions. A calmer patient and family make the medical care a lot easier.
- Taking the necessary time to explain to family members needing to make a very difficult life support withdrawal or withholding decision.
When speaking to patients, let them know we are here for them, to be present to them, to listen to them and to do our best to meet their spiritual needs. We do this as a representative of a God who loves them, and assure them they are never alone.
In talking to family members, we need to reassure them that we are there to support not only the patient but also the family. We can provide valuable services to the family by putting them in contact with the Ethics Committee when a moral issue is involved. Chaplain coordination of visits or reconnections by the patient’s clergy can also be helpful and is always appreciated.
So here’s what I think we need to do – we need to develop a specific plan for each spiritual care department with the goal of equipping each director and chaplain to be comfortable in making the case for the true value of chaplains. First of all, the plan needs a goal. Then the plan needs to clearly identify who we target to receive this communication over the next year. Next is to determine how we want to do this. There are a lot of tools available on the NACC website. On the home page is an excellent video on “Making a Difference in People’s Lives.” Also, here is a link to “the elevator speech” description as well as elevator speech resources and an incredible PowerPoint presentation on “How do we talk about our ministry,” which provides really good scripts on how to talk to the primary people you work with and serve.
The NACC home office also has some helpful brochures they can send you or email to you. Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to do all we can to educate people about our beloved ministry. In the last six months I have talked to a Knights of Columbus group, a men’s faith-sharing group and a Legatus meeting on “What Chaplains Really Do” and “Death and Dying.” The presentations were well received and elicited many questions. Each event occurred after I volunteered to speak on those subjects. I would suggest that we all look for opportunities to educate a wide variety of people on the worth of our ministry so that we are no longer the best-kept secret in the community.
It comes down to, “If not me, then who?”
James J. Castello, BCC, is an NACC board member and a retired chaplain living in Kennett Square, PA.