By David Lewellen
In the shadow of Disneyland, the NACC and the APC made a small magic kingdom of their own for one weekend in July. The 2018 joint conference between the two organizations featured informative workshops, spiritual moments, further announcements about collaboration — and dancing.
At the banquet, APC honored Patricia Murphy with its Anton Boisen Professional Service Award. Presenter George Fitchett praised Murphy’s “profound non-judgmental acceptance of people of all conditions” and said, “You have really helped to transform chaplaincy.”
The NACC’s Distinguished Service Award went to Mary Lou O’Gorman. Presenter Mary Heintzkill said that for decades O’Gorman has “worked tirelessly for spiritual care on many fronts, both locally and nationally.”
Theresa Sullivan, accepting the NACC’s Emergent Leader Award, said, “I’m honored that the NACC has put its trust in me to help lead us forward.” To her three children, who were in the audience, she said, “Hospitality, respect, dignity, compassion are not necessarily the world’s definition of leadership. But I hope you turn the world upside down, like Jesus did.”
Following the speeches, the noisemakers on the banquet tables were put to good use as newly certified chaplains were called across the stage to receive their certificates. With cheers, whistles, bells, and finally pounding dance music, APC put to rest the old joke that Protestants are “God’s frozen chosen.”
Another new feature to NACC members was the poster presentation during the cocktail hour before the banquet. More than 20 chaplains and CPE students stood next to professionally printed summaries of their research or outreach efforts and answered questions from visitors. Topics included death cafes, impasses with patients and families in palliative care, Muslim parents and stem cell transplants, and the Archdiocese of Boston’s outreach efforts to make parishioners aware of palliative care.
Workshops at the joint NACC-APC conference covered a wide array of topics, from organ donation to transgender patients to military ministry.
At a presentation on the “post-code pause,” NACC member Elizabeth Schultz described an initiative at LGHealth/Penn Medicine to observe 10 or 15 seconds of silence after a patient’s death. The pause gives healthcare providers a chance to absorb what has happened and to show respect without needing to find the right words, either for colleagues or for family members.
It is usually the chaplain’s role to initiate the pause, Schultz said, and though it can feel intimidating to take charge of the room, “what a great sign it is to our residents to claim pastoral authority,” she said. “We are professionals.”
Since beginning the program last summer, she said, 70 percent of deaths now get a post-code pause, and the practice is spreading to oncology, the operating room, and the emergency room.
At the Transforming Chaplaincy roundtable, six chaplains who have earned master’s degrees in public health spoke about their discoveries in the past two years, in their fields and about themselves. NACC member Allison Delaney, who is also a physical therapist, discussed the role of unpaid family caregivers in keeping patients healthy, and whether that role is a burden, a gift, or both. She is interested in exploring the ways other healthcare staff can offer spiritual care (such as she does sometimes in her physical therapist role) and in developing data on professional healthcare providers who also go home and provide unpaid care for a loved one.
The provocatively titled “All I Need Is a Miracle” offered some perspective on the changing attitude toward miracles in the ancient and modern worlds. “Miracles and hope are complex ideas,” said medical ethicist Trevor Bibler. He and his co-presenter, Thomas Payne, suggested chaplains practice “epistemic humility” and ask patients and family members open-ended questions such as, “What would a miracle look like to you?”
At a workshop on advance care planning, Aiofe Lee explained how she works in an outpatient office to encourage patients to make living wills and healthcare powers of attorney – and how her practice is reimbursed for the service. In two months last year for which she broke out data, Lee saw 60 patients who met her criteria – older than 70, with decision-making capacity and no advance directive – and 47 of them signed durable powers of attorney.
NACC member Anne Windholz, a former literature scholar herself, led a workshop on narrative medicine, describing how patients can frame their experience as a story and how chaplains can help them tell the story. Narrative “knots” might signal spiritual distress, she said, and chaplains can serve as an intermediary between doctor and patient. “You guys: Advocate,” she said. “Talk about what you do and how you do it. … We have the best job in the world.”
Beverley Johnson received the NACC’s annual Outstanding Colleague award at the association’s membership luncheon on Friday. Johnson, the president of the Institute for Patient and Family-Centered Care, which has worked for decades to help healthcare organizations to partner with patients and families in care planning.
“We’ve had the opportunity to work with so many chaplains to improve the culture of so many organizations,” Johnson said in her acceptance speech. It’s very easy for healthcare to compartmentalize into silos, she said, but “we can change that if we participate across disciplines. That includes chaplains, but it also includes patients and families.
She ended with the story of her own mother, who died recently at age 104. Five days before the end, she told her daughter she was ready to go, and Johnson was able to advocate for her. “Thank you for teaching me to do that,” she told the audience of chaplains.