Friday, December 19, 2014

Hospital diagnoses need for on-call chaplain

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 11/22/2013

GARNETT — The most important skill for a chaplain is to be a good listener in a time of crisis, Ron Jones said.

Jones, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Garnett, has had plenty of opportunities to practice what he preaches as a chaplain in several hospital settings from Wichita to the Kansas City area for more than a decade.

GARNETT — The most important skill for a chaplain is to be a good listener in a time of crisis, Ron Jones said.

Jones, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Garnett, has had plenty of opportunities to practice what he preaches as a chaplain in several hospital settings from Wichita to the Kansas City area for more than a decade.

“I had a young man and a young lady who had just had an infant die, and he wasn’t the father of the child,” Jones said. “You’ve got the hostility there, and [the couple] asking why this happened? We can’t answer why. But we can be present and say, ‘What can I do [to help]?’ You know, so many times you just listen — that’s the best thing you can do.”

The 15-year pastor who has served one year at First Baptist Church is the coordinator of a new on-call chaplain service at Anderson County Hospital in Garnett.

Patients at the hospital now have 24/7 access to spiritual support and guidance through the new on-call chaplaincy program, Karen Wood, a clinical social worker at the hospital who helped organize the program, said. The program ensures patients and families are provided with additional support from a member of the clergy during hospitalization or in the event of an emergency, she said.

The program, initiated in June through a partnership with the Garnett Area Ministerial Alliance, is inclusive of all faiths, Wood and Jones said, with five churches and six pastors participating.

“We pretty much run the gamut on all the denominations here in town with the chaplaincy program,” Jones said.

Wood said the ministerial alliance was very supportive of the idea and already had expressed interest in offering the service.

“I had a meeting with the ministerial alliance, and we were talking about wellness and how it encompasses everything, and how we would like to get our pastors more involved,” Wood said. “They were already thinking about it at the same time. [Anderson County Hospital] is part of the Saint Luke’s Health System, which also emphasizes spiritual wellness for our patients. We were able to get policies and procedures from some other regional hospitals that have the service.”

Established in 1882 in Kansas City, Mo., Saint Luke’s Health System consists of 10 area hospitals and several primary and specialty care practices, according to the St. Luke’s website.

“Most of the time, you will have full-time chaplains on staff at large hospitals, like the main St. Luke’s [hospital in Kansas City],” Jones said. “Here, we don’t have the one on-site, but it makes us available for us to be here in a relatively short amount of time.”

At Anderson County Hospital, patients will be offered the service upon admission and asked if they have a religious preference, Wood said, adding the on-call chaplain will be called in case of emergent events to ensure patients and families have spiritual support during a crisis. Local clergy involved in the on-call chaplaincy program completed an orientation process and privacy training at the hospital, she said.

“[The orientation] covered how it would work for patients who maybe didn’t have a pastor, and making sure we would be able to comprehensively address all their needs as well as protect privacy,” Wood said.



The on-call chaplain list has worked well for staff in the emergency room, Rhonda Snyder, an ER nurse at Anderson County Hospital, said.

“When we have a trauma [patient], having an on-call chaplain to assist with that trauma has been very nice,” Snyder said. “They are there for family and patients, if needed, and can be there for spiritual support and as a resource to assist families with other needs while the nurses can be taking care of the patients directly.”

Jones, who served as a chaplain for the Augusta, Kan., Department of Safety and the Leavenworth Police Department before coming to Garnett, said he was excited about being able to offer the on-call chaplaincy program at the hospital.

“It’s a community service that we can provide,” Jones said. “When you look at the total wellness of a patient, while so many times the physical wellness ends at the hospital when they leave, you still have other needs. [The chaplaincy program] gives us the opportunity to find out what those other needs might be, whether they be spiritual, whether they be financial, whether it be food support — whatever they might be. We have now made a contact and we can have that outreach for every church in the community. One of the unique things about Garnett is we have a very strong ministerial alliance. Nobody is out to get numbers — we are out to provide a service for our community, and it’s been really, really neat to work with.”

The chaplaincy program is not just for emergency room calls, Jones said.

“You could have an in-patient here who has no affiliation with any church in the community, or they are from far enough away that their pastor could not make a call,” Jones said, “and this allows us to go in once again and just provide that service for them. It’s a service of comfort and presence.”

The chaplain service can be about more than just being available to listen to family and patients, Jones said.

“We have someone whose husband is being transported to Kansas City in an ambulance or life-flighted, and they have no means of transportation [for example],” Jones said. “We can give them a ride up, or we can arrange for transportation for them from somebody in one of our congregations. Speaking for my congregation and from what I’ve heard in our ministerial alliance meetings, everyone has been very supportive of this program.”

With a diverse population in Anderson County, from Catholics to Amish residents, the chaplaincy program works well as a first point of contact with the patient — no matter what the denomination, Jones said.

“We will come in and if we find [the patient] is a member of another denomination and would choose to have their pastor present, we will contact their pastor,” Jones said. “In some cases, theologically and denominationally, when we don’t have the same rituals and the same practices, we will see to it that we can get in touch with their pastor and get them here as quickly as possible.

“If you have a Catholic family who has someone who is critically ill and obviously going to be in a time of death and they would want Last Rites for them, I would then definitely have to contact a Catholic priest — I cannot give Last Rites as a protestant pastor.”

Jones also has run into occasions where family members are Christians but the patient is a non-believer, he said.

“You realize you can still be of assistance to the family,” Jones said. “I have had some belligerent patients, but the family was there and the family needed the support. This also gives us the ability to be a liaison between [family and patient]. And you just understand they are not mad with you at all.”



No matter a person’s religious affiliation, a chaplain can provide comfort in time of crisis, Jones said.

“It can be anything from somebody being involved in an accident when they were traveling through and they are away from family to somebody being life-flighted out, and the family would like a prayer said before they take off,” Jones said. “I assure you whether it be in a [surgery] recovery room, intensive care recovery room or in an emergency room, when you ask: ‘Can I pray for somebody?’ — You’re not going to get turned down.”

Snyder, the emergency room nurse, said the chaplains also can be a benefit to hospital staff in a time of crisis.

“Should the trauma patient pass, then [the chaplain] is there for spiritual support, and that has a significant impact — not only for the patient’s family but for the staff.”

Whether a clergy member or a hospital staff member, everyone is affected by traumatic situations, including deaths, Jones said.

“You can’t go through it without being effected,” he said. “We do a critical incident stress debriefing.”

Snyder likes for the chaplains to lead those debriefings for hospital staff, she said.

“It’s important to get it done as quickly after an event as possible, especially like for any kind of pediatric situation,” Snyder, who has more than 20 years of experience as a nurse, said. “When you’re more geared towards an adult population, no one takes a pediatric trauma situation well, whether you’ve been doing it for 20 years or two. The debriefing is very important.”

Snyder had an occasion to call on a chaplain in her own time of crisis when she worked at an Olathe hospital, she said.

“I went to work one day feeling fine and then got to feeling bad and by the end of the day I was told I had to have open-heart surgery,” Snyder said. “I called on my chaplain right then and there. It wasn’t a trauma, but it was a change-of-life event. When you’re in your forties, it’s not something you expect. I was very glad there was a chaplain service there — you rely on that a lot.”

It’s not uncommon for hospitals to offer some form of chaplain service, whether it be a paid chaplain position or an on-call chaplain service, Larry Felix, chief executive officer of Ransom Memorial Hospital, 1301 S. Main St., Ottawa, said.

Ransom has a paid chaplain at the hospital during the week, as well as a list of local clergy who serve on a rotating on-call basis after hours and on weekends, Felix said. As in Anderson County Hospital’s case, the chaplains at Ransom Memorial Hospital serve not just patients in the emergency room, but in-patients, hospital staff and others, he said.

“It’s not a requirement for a hospital to have a chaplain [service], but I just think it’s an important part of what we do,” Felix, who initiated the chaplaincy program in 2000, said.

Since it’s inception about five months ago in Garnett, the chaplaincy program already has become an important part of the services Anderson County Hospital has to offer, Wood said.

“We’re excited to keep looking for ways to improve patient care and provide support to our patients and families to give them the best outcome and improve their quality of life,” Wood said.

Jones finds work as a chaplain rewarding, he said.

“It’s an opportunity to have a spiritual person there to provide assistance — it’s being there that’s just as important as anything you might say or do,” Jones said. “To think that God has called you in a ministry to be the presence of Him with somebody else — [as a chaplain and pastor] that’s all you need.”

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