Today’s hospital chaplains provide spiritual and emotional support to patients and staff in ways that bear little resemblance to the chaplains of years past.
Previously, chaplains were traditionally white, male and Protestant. But today’s spiritual care providers come from backgrounds that are as diverse as the patients they serve, and their responsibilities encompass so much more than just pastoral support.
Sharp Grossmont Hospital Chaplain Judy Ray personifies this new generation of clergy. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology, and was ordained as an interfaith minister, which positions her well to care for the hospital’s diverse patient population.
The responsibilities of a chaplain run the gamut. At the heart of their work, they are purveyors of comfort, compassion and spiritual enlightenment. They minister in times of grief as well as celebrate in moments of joy.
At Sharp Grossmont, Chaplain Judy (as she prefers to be called) and her colleagues make daily rounds in the Emergency Department and throughout the clinical care areas to assist patients in need.
Spiritual care providers offer the following services:
- Spiritual support and counseling for patients, visitors and staff
- Daily communion from Eucharistic ministers
- End-of-life and grief support
- Spiritual literature and resources
- Critical incident stress debriefing
- Prayer, meditation and music
Chaplains also have strong ties to faith leaders within the community, and facilitate visits with Catholic priests, rabbis and imams. “We provide resources to all the major faith traditions in the community,” says Ray.
It takes a village
Providing support to a large hospital is beyond the scope of a small team, so Ray relies on volunteers for an extra layer of help. More than 35 specially trained volunteers at Sharp Grossmont provide comfort and companionship to the dying and their families in the final days of life, as part of the hospital’s unique “11th Hour Program.” To celebrate life’s new beginnings, Ray initiated a popular service called Baby Blessings, for newborns and their parents.
During her career at Sharp Grossmont, Ray has provided compassionate support to thousands of patients and their loved ones in need. When asked if there are any experiences that stand out in her memory, she speaks about the time she sat with an elderly couple while the wife lay dying and her husband reminisced about their 65 years together.
“I was able to bring comfort and listen with compassion,” says Ray. When his wife passed, the husband told Ray, “I’m OK now, because you were my angel.”
Comfort and mindfulness
Ray also recalls the time when she comforted a young mother in the ER, who experienced an unspeakable tragedy when her two young children accidentally drowned. Ray sat with the mother for hours, while supporting the physicians, nurses and staff affected by the incident.
“What helped me get through this was my mindfulness practice. I had to stay focused and balanced, and take care of myself while I was taking care of others,” she says.
More chaplains like Ray are incorporating the practice of mindfulness in their work, which has been shown to help reduce stress, lower chronic pain and improve concentration, among other benefits. In today’s fast-paced and highly charged health care landscape, mindfulness is like a welcome and calming ocean wave.
Ray leads Monday mindfulness sessions for staff, as well as ongoing series of more in-depth classes.
“Our focus has changed in recent years, in terms of taking care of staff. If we can take better care of ourselves, we are prepared to take better care of our patients,” she says.
Update: Chaplain Judy is now happily retired.