Healthcare chaplaincy in a pandemic
We invited a number of Baptist healthcare chaplains to share something of their experiences in the Covid-19 pandemic.
This page features reflections from the Revds Sarah Crane, Diana Steadman and Adrian Woodbridge. Links to other pieces are at the foot of the page.
Sarah Crane, Lead Chaplain at Milton Keynes University Hospital
If I’m honest the last two and a half months have been a bit of a blur. In early March we had the second Covid-19 death in the country and from there things have changed at a rapid pace day by day. Our hospital has now cared for over 100 people who have died from Covid-19 and we know the journey isn’t over.
Firstly, the hospital suspended volunteers visiting on the wards. Then national guidance was given to suggest that Chaplains could respond to requests for visits but not visit from bed to bed speaking to patients and their visitors. I am currently our only fulltime Chaplain and have still been able to work in the hospital every day, but we have been creative in enabling the wider team of Chaplains, who are shielding, to offer support via phone and video calls. I have also had the kind support from a local colleague, the Revd Ruth Gookey, who has been able to join the staff bank and support both patients and staff.
Our staff have been incredible, however, the hero rhetoric is largely unhelpful. These professionals have had to adapt and respond to a situation which has changed rapidly. They have been frightened, exhausted, generous and giving. They are highly skilled people who have done their best amidst the same anxiety everyone else is facing. We have kitted out a new Staff Hub and have seen a bit of an increase in staff seeking support from Chaplaincy as well as P2P, our Staff Listening Service. The same worry and anxiety exists here too and we have worked hard as a hospital to provide support and information about wider support for those who are struggling.
Although Covid-19 cases are reducing, we know that is it far from over. Hospitals will have to develop new ways of working to deliver planned and emergency care alongside care for those with Covid-19.
Please do pray for our teams; for wisdom for those responsible for developing plans to reopen services; for rest for those who are tired and spent; for vision to see what changes we need to keep from our rapid shapeshifting; for peace for those who are grieving; and for the love and kindness of God to fill our hospital each day.
Diana Steadman, Staff Wellbeing Chaplain, Kingston Hospital, Surrey
In 2017 I became one of the first Baptist ministers ordained directly into a unique Staff Wellbeing Chaplain role, designed to strategically support the pastoral and spiritual needs of staff working in an acute hospital setting.
As the pandemic struck we already had in place group reflection sessions to help staff cut through the busyness and distress of the evolving situation. Since then the demand for sessions has grown exponentially as they give frontline staff opportunities to share thoughts, articulate the depth of their feelings and struggles and help them safely process the enormity of their task.
Also available were confidential 1:1 ‘Time to Talk’ sessions. These provide individuals a safe space to reflect on moral dilemmas, relational issues and emotionally diffuse the grief experienced at so much loss of life.
So in one way my mission has changed little due to Covid-19; good relationships have been shown to help people assimilate and metabolise adversity. Throughout I have continued to work five days a week working face to face with staff, but for longer hours. The biggest challenge now is the huge rise in demand for support and complexity of needs which will last well into the future. This includes the sad task of leading Christian and multi-faith memorials for staff lost to Covid-19.
I have recently set up and am leading a temporarily redeployed team of counsellors and clinical psychologists who help with 1:1 support, but within weeks they will return to their normal NHS workloads.
Prayer points: Thank God that His love can be seen ruling in the hearts of hospital staff as they work with compassion and care to calm the fear and distress brought by Covid-19. Please pray that a permanent solution can be found to boost numbers in my team so that current levels of support for staff can be maintained and activities creatively developed to meet emerging needs.
Adrian Woodbridge, Lead Chaplain, Norfolk & Norwich University Hospitals NHS
What changes have you experienced during the pandemic?
We no longer have a Sunday service so we have turned the chapel into a quite reflective space for patients and staff support, a drop in sanctuary from the hospital with comfy seating and opportunity for a coffee. The hospital is a quieter place with virtually no visitors.
Are you still able to operate in your hospitals?
We are still able to operate as normal and have access to all wards. We have had to complete mask and PPE training on order to maintain access and have been issued with Scrubs. The knock on effect of this is that visits to a patient on a Covid ward will take more time with donning PPE and showering straight after.
Are you doing more work from home?
We have a team of five, and two of the team are working from home due to ongoing health issues. We also have a team member ill with suspected Covid. We are managing to find roles for our team working from home but this can be limited as a lot of the work of Chaplaincy is face to face contact. We have been able to appoint bank staff from ministers who have availability including one of our regional ministers and a local university chaplain.
We are running a bereavement support line and a staff support line, our Chaplains who are working from home are operating this.
Are more staff reaching out to you at this time?
We are seeing a slight increase in staff support but because of restricted movement around the hospital staff are coming straight in and going straight home and staying on ward in between. The hospital is working hard to find ways to connect with staff in various ways.
What are the challenges and stresses of your role at the moment?
We have a lot more phone calls from families who can’t be with their loved ones and would like to get messages to them. We have started using iPads so that families can Skype their loved ones and this has been very well received. Because of the time it takes to prepare we have had to prioritise our visits at peak demand times.
How would you encourage prayer – both for the NHS (staff, patients and families) and yourselves?
Hospitals have had a lot of change in a short time including the fact that lots of staff have had to work from home, there has been ward and staff movement as people have been redeployed. As life starts to return there may be a lot of changes that are here to stay, and hospital may seem an unfamiliar environment to many staff, pray for this moment as hospitals re-establish and people return to a ‘new normal’.
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