By Janet Stark
Chaplains have traditionally excelled at providing spiritual/faith care, but we need to learn to become better health professionals. A chaplain is part of the medical team and needs to understand medical policies and practices. Any related education that connects with quality of life and a person’s well-being is something that we should seek out — for example, mental health, staff burnout and compassion fatigue; suicide prevention; elder abuse; and post-traumatic distress syndrome.
The goal is to have hospital administrators, directors and managers automatically think of calling on the spiritual care department for assistance in a whole new basket of competencies. We don’t want them waiting for a specifically religious need before realizing that spiritual care can be of immense help!!
Based on my experience providing this type of education at the provincial and national levels in Canada, I believe chaplains need to be better aware of community health programs and services, since they are often the ones who can inform patients and families. They should understand the admissions, transfers and discharge procedures and be able to help families navigate these paths.
Chaplains also need to provide education to the rest of the health team in order to be seen as an appropriate resource for holistic health and wellness and quality of life. We need to learn the language of healthcare — evidence-based research; best practices; budget process — and understand the acronyms and lingo that are used by the rest of the health team.
Consider the impact parish nursing can have on a community. It is an arm of a congregation’s ministry that concentrates on the specific needs that relate to the mental, physical, emotional,and spiritual health of its members. Chaplaincy should seek opportunities and overlaps, linking with and promoting parish nursing.
A parish nurse is a registered nurse who, in response to God’s call, applies nursing knowledge and healing gifts within a faith community. In these times of stretched health resources, a parish nurse can help provide a much-needed link between an individual and the formal health system.
Primary roles include health advocacy (ensuring that parishioners’ health needs are being met, navigating the complex health system, acting as liaison between health service and individuals); health education (presenting educational programs and information dealing with health and wellness issues); health counseling (meeting with parishioners to discuss and listen to concerns of a mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual nature); resource referral (linking to local health agencies and other service providers); and volunteer coordination (training and supervising volunteers to assist with the ministry in the congregation). Chaplains can certainly see ways in which their gifts might complement those of an existing parish nurse program.
Janet Stark is a certified multifaith chaplain and spiritual care manager at Brockville General Hospital in Brockville, Ontario.
Be sure nurses realize that you have the patient’s and family’s permission to be part of their care team.
Be sure clinical staff know that you are available to help provide spiritual care, bereavement care and stress management for them personally.
Make the referral process easy! A call, email, note, or tap on the shoulder, as opposed to a formal form that takes time to find its way into your inbox and your attention.
Be ready to use the term “culturally appropriate” care in place of “religious or spiritual care.” In the multifaith/multiculture environment, “culturally appropriate” is a term health professionals understand and accept.
Provide mandatory annual education sessions to improve the healthcare provider’s comfort and skill in providing appropriate bedside spiritual care.
Do a really good job of explaining the role of spiritual care during new staff orientation. Sometimes this is the only opportunity to develop a positive connection with staff and get them on board with spiritual care.
Attend multidisciplinary patient rounds and have a voice at the table. Offer to assist with family or team meetings. Be prepared to facilitate in conflict resolution and have training in family dynamics.
Rarely say no to requests, even when they overlap with social work or recreation therapy. These interventions often lead to positive spirit care.
Get to know and build rapport with physicians; present on spiritual and religious care to medical advisory committees.
Broaden what traditional spiritual and religious care have provided. Offer to intervene in cases that require conflict resolution, patient advocacy, elder abuse, patient complaints, etc.
Be part of the disaster planning group and be ready to engage the support of area churches.