Pastoral care teams stand on hospital ‘holy ground,’ offer light in dark times
COVID-19 is a constant presence. Daily newscasts begin with reports of how many people have fallen ill or died since the last report and hospitals are limiting visits in an attempt to keep everyone as safe as possible.
“It’s a very intense time,” acknowledges Deacon Joe Knapp, pastoral care manager at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. But for him and a team of 17 chaplains, Sisters and priests, that’s not where the story ends.
“I think we all recognize that we spend much of our day standing on holy ground. We just try to remember that and honor that as much as we can,” he told The Catholic Post. “Then at the end of the day, we go home and get our rest so that we can come back and face whatever is in the Lord’s vineyard for the next day.”
Each of those days brings something different and functioning effectively during the pandemic has required adapting and adjusting, sometimes on a daily basis, according to Deacon Knapp. But that’s also the beauty of what’s been happening, he said.
“While there are heartbreaking things, our fellow mission partners spread a lot of light because they live the mission. No matter how difficult yesterday was, they show up today to use their God-given talents and recognize this isn’t just a job, it’s a calling.” — Deacon Joe Knapp, pastoral care manager, OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center, Peoria
“While there are heartbreaking things, our fellow mission partners spread a lot of light because they live the mission,” he explained. “No matter how difficult yesterday was, they show up today to use their God-given talents and recognize this isn’t just a job, it’s a calling.”
That included getting iPads and other devices in each unit so when families couldn’t come to visit their loved ones in the early days of the pandemic, they were able to make virtual visits thanks to the creativity of the mission partners and their determination to rise to the challenge. Deacon Knapp said that when nurses help families connect like that as their loved one is at the end of life, it is a way of honoring them and bringing value to their lives.
“There are things we see every day like that,” he said.
The pastoral care team prepares to support patients, families and the medical center’s mission partners by meeting each morning to discuss what’s happening before they spend time in prayer. Then they do a spiritual assessment of a particular case so they can understand what the families find helpful.
“Part of what that does is it builds a real strong camaraderie among the pastoral care team,” Deacon Knapp said.
They are involved in unit-based chaplaincy, which allows them to integrate into each patient’s care team. That way they get to know who is providing care at the bedside and offering pastoral care as needed.
When there is a death, that includes pulling the patient care team together for a process called “the pause.”
“We pause for a moment to remember the dignity of the individual life and to honor that life with a moment of silence and then prayer with our mission partners,” Deacon Knapp said. “As emotionally difficult as this time is, it speaks to the importance of pausing and bringing honor to a life and the way we have touched that life.”
Members of the pastoral care team are not immune to the sadness they can encounter and when they need to cry or talk, others on the team are there to help them debrief, Deacon Knapp said.
“My door is always open,” he added. “They can come in and sit down and just take a moment to process before they go into the next situation.”
They also draw strength from things like the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary that are livestreamed every Wednesday, daily emails with video reflections on hope, and a monthly blog from Sister Judith Ann Duvall, OSF, major superior of The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, who own and operate OSF HealthCare.
“For our Sisters of the Third Order, pastoral and spiritual care needs are every bit as important as any other care need a patient or mission partner have.” — Steven Mattern, senior vice president of Mission Services, OSF Healthcare
“For our Sisters of the Third Order, pastoral and spiritual care needs are every bit as important as any other care need a patient or mission partner have,” said Steven Mattern, senior vice president of Mission Services at OSF Healthcare. “Therefore, from the beginning of this pandemic, collaboration across pastoral care teams of OSF has been extremely important in helping us to be a learning organization which shares best practices.”
He said Deacon Knapp and his team, along with Clinical Pastoral Education, Mission Services and others who work closely each day not only support the work of OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, but share support with pastoral care teams across the OSF ministry. That includes nearly 70 pastoral caregivers in facilities from Escanaba, Michigan, to Alton.
“I cannot find the right words to express how grateful I am for their fidelity to our sacred mission, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Mattern said. “They are bearers of hope!”
Deacon Knapp said there are many ways they find and share that hope.
“There are still babies born here every day. There’s new life in the midst of it,” he said. “When you hear the lullaby that comes over the speaker when each baby is born, it gives you pause to remember that there is new life. There is hope.”
Deacon Knapp added that everyone who provides pastoral care at OSF Saint Francis has a strong prayer life. He said he is particularly grateful for what he learned about the Liturgy of the Hours during his formation as a permanent deacon.
“There are times you get home at the end of the day and you have no words. It’s hard to pray,” he said. “But the structure of the Liturgy of the Hours, when you’re steeped and rooted in that . . . it sustains you.”
In the end, we are a people of hope, “so you hang on to that,” he said.
What patients, families and mission partners need most right now is prayer, Deacon Knapp said. “People get emotionally worn, so we need the strength of God’s grace to carry on.”
He also asked for patience and understanding.
“As much as people would love to be here to see their loved ones, we’d love to see that, too,” he said. “We understand that can provide great benefit in the healing process, those human relationships.”
Setting limits on who can visit a patient — one person designated by the patient or as many as four in end-of-life situations — is out of care and concern for everyone, he said.
“We’re trying to keep other people safe, we’re trying to keep mission partners safe, we trying to keep their families safe,” Deacon Knapp said. “It’s about the human family and not just an individual family.”