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Vital Signs

Fall 2011

Spiritual Care Can Have Essential Role in Helping to Heal

VS-Fall11-Spiritual CareUCLA strives to meet the medical and emotional needs of all its patients and their families. Alongside the efforts to heal, spiritual support is provided by chaplains who serve as integral members of the hospital healthcare team. UCLA Health’s Department of Spiritual Care includes professionally certified staff chaplains as well as supervised chaplain interns and residents enrolled in clinical pastoral education as part of the department’s highly regarded training program.

Spiritual care is offered for patients and families of all faiths who desire it, with special Holy Day celebrations and ecumenical services at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica andRonald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, as well as regularly scheduled weekly services at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center that include Roman Catholic Mass and interfaith services on Sundays, a Jewish Shabbat service and a Jummah Islamic prayer service on Fridays, and a Buddhist Dharma talk and meditation on Tuesdays. Rev. Karen Schnell, director of the Spiritual Care Department, spoke on the importance of spiritual care in the hospital setting.

What is the role of the hospital chaplain at UCLA?
Being hospitalized is more than just physically challenging; it can be emotionally and spiritually challenging as well. Chaplains are there to provide support for the emotional and spiritual challenges that accompany illness and hospitalization. Throughout the healthcare profession there is a growing understanding of the chaplain’s importance as a healthcare professional who does spiritual assessment for the patient and family, then determines what resources they can draw on and where they need support. Our chaplains are there to listen to patient concerns, share with them in their faith struggles if they’re having any, and assist them in processing their experience of illness and hospitalization as well as seeking peace, strength or meaning in what’s happening.

Are there common misconceptions about what hospital chaplains do?
There are two major stereotypes. The first is that we come in from the community to try to recruit or proselytize, which is not at all true. In fact, our chaplains are professionally certified, and any proselytizing activity would be against our code of ethics. The second misconception is that chaplains come along only when someone is dying. While it’s true that we are available at that important time, there is much more to our role.

VS-Fall11-Rev. Karen SchnellWhat are some of the requests your department receives from patients and families?
It varies. We get requests for baptisms and other traditional Catholic or Christian sacraments such as communion. We have people who request the Catholic sacrament for the sick. We also have requests for Jewish prayers, sacred texts from various traditions, or requests to speak with a faith-specific religious leader such as an Imam or Buddhist monk. At times the request is for something less concrete, such as prayer support or simply to speak with a chaplain.

What are some of the issues commonly discussed?
Typically this is a time that invites deeper reflection for people, and may be experienced as a crisis for some. Patients may be asking questions about what’s happening to them, why it’s happening and what it means. It can be a time for reflection on relationships, or a revisiting of what’s important for them in their lives. For some patients, it’s a time when they question their faith, while others are drawing upon the resources of their faith.

What types of religious services are provided in the hospital?
Spiritual aspects of many patient’s lives are disrupted when they are in the hospital, and we do what we can to help them feel more connected to familiar traditions and religious/spiritual practices. Patients who are ambulatory can come to any of our services held on the hospital premises. For patients who are not ambulatory, we can bring spiritual practices to the bedside. An example is our “Shabbat in a Box” program for Jewish patients and families who want to observe the Sabbath. We will bring freshly baked challah bread, grape juice, wine glasses and two battery-operated candles as a way of creating some normalcy and continuance of a religious practice while the patient is confined to the hospital bed.

How are chaplains made available to patients and families?
Nurses will ask within 24 hours of patients’ admission if they would like to indicate a faith preference and if they would like a visit from a hospital chaplain. In addition, the chaplains are assigned to units as members of the healthcare team, and they attend the multidisciplinary rounds, making them more aware of who would like their VS-Fall11-Rev Schnellsupport. Having chaplains as a consistent presence on the unit also helps to keep other members of the healthcare team aware of our services and availability in case they encounter patients whom they think could benefit.

Is anything else done to ensure that the healthcare team is sensitive to patients’ spiritual needs?
The Department of Spiritual Care collaborates with nursing and other departments. We offer in-services on spiritual care for the interdisciplinary healthcare staff. We also collaborate with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA on a unique program in which first-year medical students shadow a chaplain, and it’s often one of the first times these students are at the bedside. It’s been a great opportunity for medical students to not only see the role of the chaplain, but also to better understand the role of faith or spiritual practice in the illness and healing process of many patients.

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