By Sr. Dorothy Thum
Blessing of hands is a ritual to thank staff for the care they provide to patients in the hospital. The ritual often includes a blessing and a prayer and can close with a sprinkling of holy water or an anointing of hands. All staff can benefit, including nurses, physicians, information technology, nutrition, facilities, housekeeping, office personnel, and leaders. The blessing of hands symbolizes how important everyone’s talented hands are in providing healing care. The ritual reminds them to open their hearts to each other and to their patients.
COVID-19 has presented special challenges to all healthcare providers, including those working in physician offices. The office staff had to be very nimble to institute other ways to connect with patients. Virtual care protocols had to be established quickly. MyChart and other similar electronic health records had to quickly get up to speed to provide ongoing feedback to patients who could not come to the office. The role of the office staff changed dramatically.
Because of the extraordinary compassionate care that had been provided under stressful conditions, Bon Secours Mercy Health mission leaders desired a way to thank the physician office staff. The blessing of hands was considered an important show of appreciation, and the spiritual care staff was willing to provide the ritual in the actual offices.
The best times are usually before the patients are scheduled in the morning or during the staff’s lunch break. It is important to have a name of a contact person when you arrive at the office. The contact person gathers the staff and provides the space for the ritual.
The chaplain providing the service needs to be very flexible. Often the staff may still be involved with patients, and we may be delayed for a few minutes. The office setting may be a small space. There may not be enough chairs for everyone. As a person providing the ritual, I never know who will show up due to patient care issues. But the ritual is brief – approximately five minutes.
I begin with a welcome and thanks for all they have done to care for patients in challenging situations. I talk about concern for their well-being and the inspiration that the blessing of hands could provide to renew their spirits. I give them time to share a story if they desire, and I make sure I know their names and their role in the office practice.
The ritual closes with a sprinkling of holy water. Due to COVID, the anointing and touching of hands has not been allowed, but I sprinkle holy water in the hands of each person and ask them to rub their hands together. I encourage them to remember their hands were blessed each time they wash them during the day. The ritual closes with a prayer card for each participant, which people often say they need as a reminder. I always thank the office manager in an email following the visit, and I copy that person’s supervisor, too.
In one of the offices I visited, an office worker shared a touching story. A recently homeless patient came into the office, and the office staff gave the person some food from their own lunches. For me, this story depicts our compassionate ministry in action.
As I did this ministry, I realized I was changed as well. Now I better understand the challenges of caring for patients beyond the walls of the hospitals, and I feel a renewal of my commitment to compassionate ministry. The program has strengthened our mission and lets the office staff get to know chaplains in case they need their services. In the future, other mission and spiritual renewal programs can use the same format to renew the spirit of caregivers.
Sr. Dorothy Thum, RSM, is Toledo market vice president of mission for Bon Secours Mercy Health.