It’s no secret that working in healthcare is emotionally, physically and spiritually challenging. Continuous exposure to trauma takes a significant toll. Thankfully, while chaplains in Denver area Adventist hospitals perform typical duties on behalf of patients and their families, they also tend to their coworkers’ emotional and spiritual needs.
One of their goals is to prevent burnout. A 2015 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report reveals that the burnout rate for nurses is 10 to 70 percent. For physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners it’s 30 to 50 percent.
While exposure to one extraordinary traumatic event can cause post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Jim Feldbush, director of Mission and Ministry for Porter Adventist Hospital, repeated exposure to smaller traumas can cause compassion fatigue.
Members of the armed forces may return from war with visible, external wounds, but healthcare professionals often experience invisible, internal wounds caused by cumulative stress built up over time. They may not even be aware of their own emotional wounds until they find themselves overwhelmed.
“We consider ourselves pastors to a ‘congregation’ of more than 1,400,” says chaplain Glenn Sackett. “Our employees are our ‘church members,’ and our patients are the ‘visitors.’ We understand that employees who suffer from compassion fatigue are less effective in meeting the needs of hospital visitors seeking care and healing.”
Specifically, chaplaincy teams at the various hospital campuses provide caregivers with formal training using a “resilience building curriculum.” They teach the caregivers how to meet their own physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so they can, in turn, meet the needs of their patients. The caregivers learn how to avoid compassion fatigue and maintain resilience amid the hectic pace of hospital life.
In addition to providing formal resilience teaching, chaplains also practice an intentional ministry of presence, bringing divine resources into the work environment.
“The real work of the chaplain is simply to be present,” says Feldbush. “Not to make judgments. Not to give advice or be ‘preachy, but just to be there—to be available.”
One simple but deeply appreciated aspect of this ministry is called “Tea for the Soul.” When a department or unit is facing a challenging situation, the chaplains come by with a cart of tea and cookies. They stay and listen to the caregivers talk and decompress, providing comfort and encouragement.
“The response has been amazing,” says Sackett. “We often see nurses in the hallways without having the opportunity to personally connect with them until we show up to provide a listening ear and a comforting cup of tea.”
One nurse took the recent death of a young patient particularly hard. When the chaplains arrived at her unit the next day with “Tea for the Soul,” they rallied around the discouraged nurse, giving her emotional and spiritual support.
“Just being there brought a sense of presence and calm,” Sackett recalls. “Now when she sees me in the hallway, she thanks me and greets me by name.”
The nurse has since told him, “I didn’t know if I would be able to keep doing this work, but now I know I can.”
“It takes a certain comfort level and training to be around difficult situations in the hospital,” Feldbush says. He points out that church members have a similar opportunity to extend the healing ministry of Christ in their own communities.
“Be present without judgment and without agenda,” he says. “Listen. Even if you say nothing at all. Simply show that you really care. If, as neighbors, we share a ministry of presence, we allow the Spirit of God to work in ways that meet the needs of those we serve.”
—This article was written by Mark Bond on behalf of the Colorado Adventist hospital campuses that make up Rocky Mountain Adventist Health/Centura Health.