After the HR vetting process is finished, training begins. If you are a pastor or a deacon, your specific denominational leadership has prepared you for working with sick and dying people. However, working specifically within this hospital setting behooves each volunteer chaplain to gain knowledge of HRMC’s hospital protocol. Materials needed to attain such knowledge are supplied free of charge.
When ready, you will be assigned a time to serve according to what is workable for your personal schedule and what is needed in the chaplaincy department.
HRMC chaplains who are on-call during evenings and weekends are mostly called to the Emergency Department and the Intensive Care Unit. It is not uncommon, though, to be called to specific patient rooms. On occasion you will be called to the “Cath lab.” This is on 2nd floor. Heart cauterizations are done in this Department. Once you arrive there as a chaplain you will be directed to where the patient’s loved ones are waiting. Often they will be in the Cath Lab waiting room, which is also on the 2nd floor. We can minister to people in that room or even in the hallways, at times.
On occasion, you may receive a call to the surgery suite, but it is rare that we work there. This is also true of the Department of Labor and Delivery. That staff currently takes care of their own patient needs—except in instances of the death of a baby. Then a chaplain may be called to work with the mother, the family and the staff, at points, as this can be upsetting to the hospital team, as well—even though they are trained for all aspects of their work. This is why chaplains are rarely called to labor and delivery.
When you're on-call and summoned to come to the hospital, ask for the patient’s name, room number and for information that may help you work within the circumstance. However, there is often no time for gaining the latter, additional information. Arrive at the hospital as quickly as you can, yet drive carefully; please don’t speed. After 5 P.M. and on weekends you can use the chaplain/clergy parking space, or the parking closer to the Emergency Department. You will be able to enter at the ED entrance at any time, day or night. Once you have entered, your badge will open the inner department doorway.
Let a department staff member know you have arrived but only if this is convenient, given what is happening there at the moment. Unless directed specifically as to where to be and what to do, step to the sideline and silently pray for the medical team and the patient/their loved ones. It will be easy to recognize family and or loved ones as they will stand nearby with concern. Sometimes they are visibly upset. In the event no family or other loved ones arrive you may have an opportunity to go to the patient’s side to offer prayer, if the person is alert and can speak. Only do so after asking the team member if this can be allowed. Otherwise, you will be on the scene simply to pray silently.
If you are told there are friends or family present, ask staff where the family can be found. They may be in the ED waiting room or a bereavement room. The team must know where you and the family are as the treating doctor will come to talk with them once he or she is ready to do so.
Sometimes while working in the ED, family members are in the immediate hallway near where the medical team is working to save a patient. Lately, we only have one bereavement room in the ED; once you are directed to it that is where you will work. If much time passes, make sure the people you are working with have water. Staff can tell you where to get water.
Mostly you will interact with a staff member when you are directed to do so. However, if you see a staff member crying, this is an exception (which rarely happens). In that case you can ask, “Could I come alongside for a few moments?” If “yes” a gentle touch to the arm and a quiet word of comfort is appropriate. If emotionality continues just listen; then ask, “Would you like me to pray?” Carefully discern the timing for such questions while working with staff or others. Never be offended if the answer is “no.” Staff members will want to get back to work quickly.
While in the bereavement room with the loved one(s), mostly you will be there as a listener, comforting as you feel led. We only ask prayerful, sensitive people to be a part of the chaplaincy team; so each of you are prayerful and able to listen as people express fears and at times tears. A touch to the arm or shoulders is something you will know when to extend. Always ask permission before beginning to pray aloud with people. The same is true if you want to share a Scripture, e.g., say something like, “A passage of Scripture has come to mind, may I share it?” [Or recite it]. Total respect and unconditional warm regard for family, friends and staff is what our protocol requires. No judgments.
Mostly, chaplains are called to the ED or the ICU to work with circumstances involving death, debilitation and sorrow. These are the times when we can align well with people for the sake of helping them—and God is right there within us to assist us.
I am noticing that new chaplains at times decide to stay on after being called in--then, rounding in the department—or other departments, interacting with the medical team and other staff. This is not within set protocol. Any “rounding” will be done by myself or someone I have assigned during the daytime to do this part of the work. When you are finished with what you were called to the hospital to do, please go home and rest or sleep. You may be called back for another urgent need. Most of the time you do not have to return.
During the daytime, my commitment includes being on property part of each weekday and some time on the weekend when this is also needed. I, or assigned/seasoned duty chaplains, will do the rounding within departments and almost exclusively do the interacting with staff. Some of the chaplaincy team members who have been serving for a significant period of time are asked to help in specific ways with rounding, plus when truly necessary they are able to interact with staff while doing so.
Why is this limited for duty chaplains in training? The medical teams are almost always short staffed. They have the matter of saving lives on their minds. We are careful not to take their minds off their duties. However, if you yourself are approached by someone who recognizes you by your badge, definitely respond to them. If they want to talk with you, by all means, be there for them.
I am available by text, email or phone 24/7 if a question arises that cannot wait until daytime hours. If ever you want more help one-on-one, do not hesitate to reach me. I will get back to you immediately, or at the least as quickly as I can. My phone is always on—even when working remotely.
Hospitals always have protocol. There is a good reason for this. All staff and volunteers have rules and instructions directing their behaviors and their work. I, for sure, must follow the direction of those who oversee what I do in my role. The way I direct duty chaplains is based upon my training received during an internship within a training hospital along with 27 years of experience as a Board Certified chaplain. So please avoid difficulties.
If a situation comes up for which a protocol is not included above, that will be recognized and addressed separately. Please, always ask questions when you feel to do so.