Volunteers take time to listen, build understanding with patients
LEWISBURG — “How did it get so late so soon?” Dr. Seuss said. And in today’s busy, smartphone, fast food, selfie world, sometimes people forget to take a moment and look around — to wave to the couple on their front porch swing, hold the door for the person behind them or offer a ride to the player who walks home after a three-hour practice.
Spiritual care volunteers at Evangelical Community Hospital are striving to let patients know “you matter,” according to the Rev. Jacqueline Heitmann, coordinator of spiritual care. “We want patients to know someone cared enough to stay and be with them. Sometimes it’s about making space for them to do what they need, whether that be to cry, yell or pray.”
There currently are 40 volunteers and an upcoming spiritual care class scheduled for October. The class accommodates 10 spiritual care volunteers who gain an understanding on how to be present with patients, how to ask open-ended questions, gain communication tools, interfaith training and death and dying training, according to Heitmann.
“Spiritual volunteers will spend 12 hours in educational training and 10 hours a week of on-floor clinical training shadowing other chaplains and volunteers,” Heitmann added. “Volunteers experience different chaplain styles so they can develop their own style. We are not here to fix, because the patient is not broken and we are not here to help. We ask, ‘How can I serve you?’ “
Heitmann was hired in January 2017 and has been laying the foundation of the volunteer training program. “Most of our volunteers are retired but they are busy people with lots of activities,” Heitmann said. “A huge part of the training is when we meet in the morning and pray because when they leave that room it’s now all about the patients, not them.” Spiritual volunteers work four hours a week, though they can give more time. Most work during the day and two volunteers work in the evening, Heitmann added.
Nancy Showers has been a spiritual care volunteer for a year and one-half and a hospice volunteer for six years. She works as a spiritual care volunteer on Wednesday evenings in the emergency department. “After checking in with the triage technician I focus on the folks in the waiting room,” Showers said. “I’m an advocate for the hospital and the patient. The hospital staff have joked that I need a T-shirt that says ‘Go forth and calm.’ The amazing thing is I never ask their symptoms but I normally hear the whole story because there are times people are in the waiting room for hours. That is when I can liaison between the staff and the patient. I can explain that some patients are seeing physician assistants and others doctors or three ambulances came in to the back with critical patients.”
“The nursing staff has the technical expertise but they don’t have the time to devote like we do,” Showers added. “It’s amazing how much just talking with someone can lighten a load. Or simply offering a bottle of water or a warm blanket in the waiting room can comfort. They know I can pray with them.”
Other spiritual care volunteers on the hospital floors perform “cold calling.” They knock on all doors. Heitmann explained they introduce themselves, saying they are a spiritual care volunteer working with Heitmann. “The volunteers learn the story of a patient,” she said. “What do they lean on? What matters to them?”
Heitmann told the story of a two males, a volunteer and a patient, and the patient said immediately he was fine and didn’t need anything. The volunteer kept talking and found out they both enjoyed trains. They had a lengthy discussion about something they both loved. Spiritual care volunteers find the nugget of comfort that people hold close and they listen.
Heitmann explained some of the staff are more open to the spiritual care program than others. “Some departments are grateful and other departments say, ‘We worked just fine without it.’ When we have more opportunities to meet one-on-one staff are more open and trusting. They see it is not about evangelizing,” she added. “In a general survey, 66 percent of patients would appreciate if their doctor let them discuss religion. Some of the leadership, such as Dr. George Tenedios, director of anesthesiology, and Dr. Kathryn Giorgini, director of palliative medicine, are setting the tone. Tenedios will pray with his patients.”
“We’ve had new events this year that have pulled a diverse group of people together and created a greater awareness,” Heitmann said. One of the events was a blessing of the hands held during nurses week. “We blessed the hands of service of those who care for our patients, from construction workers to engineers to nurses and doctors. We blessed the hands with water and anointed with the oil of frankincense,” she explained.
Recently, a remembrance service was held for those who died in 2017, a chapel wedding in 24 hours for a patient who was dying, a blessing ceremony for a family who lost a baby with Potter’s syndrome at birth and services were held for two staff members, one with a 40-year tenure, who passed away, to help staff grieve.
Evangelical Community Hospital is seeking spiritual volunteers and on-call volunteer chaplains who possess their master of divinity or equivalent as requirement. Ordination or ecclesiastical standing by their respective denomination is preferred. Volunteers may be from any spiritual background and no experience is necessary. For more information, contact Heitmann at Jacqueline.Heitmann@evanhospital.com or 570-522-4444.