Vital Spiritual Care for Hospital Patients and Families | faith matters
One of the most profound programs to help me prepare for my priestly ordination was to enroll in a clinical pastoral experience, commonly referred to as CPE. I studied for 11 weeks in the summer of 1981 at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. I was one of seven clerics and seminarians to study with the Reverend Glendon Jantzi, an outstanding chaplain and facilitator. He was raised a Mennonite and went full circle to become a minister in the United Church of Christ. His approach was simple: to extract the meaning behind the everyday experiences of life.
Each of us was assigned four units in the hospital as well as rotational periods in Bellevue’s famous emergency room. Each day, one of us would present a verbatim – a re-enacted dialogue with a patient – in the hope that the group would help us focus on what we were doing well and how we could improve.
While the setting was a hospital, the skills learned were intended to help us become better pastoral ministers. I enjoyed the CPE experience so much that I enrolled in another unit the following summer. I have felt more comfortable after serving people in hospitals when they are most vulnerable. I learned to listen better so the patient knows I hear them and then I can help them navigate some of the personal issues they are struggling with.
I learned first-hand early on what a recent Harvard study concluded: spirituality is linked to better health outcomes and patient care.
“Spirituality should be integrated into care for critical illness and overall health,” according to the study led by researchers Tracy Balboni, Tyler VanderWeele and Howard Koh of Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Nicole Rura, of the Harvard Chan School of Communications, reported in The Harvard Gazette online article announcing the findings that researchers systematically identified and analyzed the highest quality evidence on spirituality in critical illness and health published between January 2000 and April 2022. of articles found that spirituality is “how individuals seek ultimate meaning, purpose, connection, value, or transcendence.”
Almost all local hospitals have some configuration of pastoral and lay chaplains to visit and counsel patients.
“If you include pastoral support for patients, they make better end-of-life and quality-of-life decisions,” said Ann Logan, who led CarePoint Health Hoboken University Medical Center for eight years as chief executive. of the hospital. She is now the executive liaison to the CEO of CarePoint and holds a doctorate in healthcare administration. She has worked in the healthcare field for 43 years.
“There is a positive impact when you have the spiritual support of clergy respecting their (patients’) values and a demonstrated improvement in the quality of care,” she said.
Patients and their families agree.
Hoboken resident Maureen Fontenot works at St. Mary’s Hospital in Passaic, where her mother, Pauline Gaeta, and her husband, Hillery Fontenot – both deceased – have been hospitalized several times over the past decade.
After her mother received Communion every day in the hospital, she recalled her mother saying, “It gives me strength every day to feel better.”
Fontenot’s husband, a deeply spiritual man, died earlier this year and had been happy to speak to the chaplain daily, she said.
Pamela Pater-Ennis is a pastoral psychotherapist and executive director of Hudson River Care & Counseling in Hoboken and Englewood. She is also a licensed social worker and a member of the pastoral and counseling faculty at New Brunswick Theological Seminary. She regularly sees outpatients while also being an ordained minister in the Reformed Church. Some of his clients have sexual trauma and religious trauma – “hurt by church people”. At some point, she says, they need hope and she thinks “you can get better if you believe in God or a higher power.”
Pater-Ennis generally does not disclose her ordained status – lest the client think she has a religious motive – unless a client requests it and normally prays with her clients unless someone asks. request. But she believes she can bridge the worlds of medicine and religion and make the connection between mind, body and spirit.
Episcopal Deacon Marjorie Boyd-Edmonds has seen this every day visiting patients at Hoboken University Medical Center for 21 years now. She believes that the presence of a chaplain means that “God is always present (to the patients)”. She knows that when you meet patients who feel most vulnerable, they begin to reconcile their life of faith. Some will admit that they have fallen into their religion and no longer go to church.
“It’s important to walk with them, to journey with them,” she said.
The Jersey City Medical Center is an exception among hospitals in our area without paid chaplains or pastoral care of any denomination. Cooperman Barnabas in Livingston, part of the RW Barnabas system like the JCMC, employs a Catholic priest, a Catholic nun, a rabbi paid by a Jewish organization and a Protestant chaplain, who also runs the pastoral office, paid by a council special .
The Reverend Bryan Page, pastor of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Jersey City, concluded that the JCMC “appears to lack a clear system or protocol for notifying or contacting clergy when needed, even in an emergency.”
No one at the JCMC would return multiple calls, but a spokesperson for the Barnabas system said they have lay volunteers from different faiths who could provide pastoral care. He only mentioned one by name and did not reveal the religious denominations represented by the others. Downtown Catholic pastors fear not only that Catholics will be neglected, but also the religious needs of other patients.
Harvard researcher Koh concluded, “Neglecting spirituality leaves patients feeling disconnected from the healthcare system and the clinicians trying to care for them. And that leaves patients stranded at the Jersey City Medical Center.
Reverend Alexander Santora is the pastor of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph, 400 Willow Ave., Hoboken, NJ 07030. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @padrehoboken.