Hospital chaplains are the frontline workers who have also taken on a critical role during the pandemic.
“What we do is care for the caregivers,” Maria Teresa Jones said.
Jones is the chaplaincy program manager for staff support at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Her team does patient care, but their primary focus is supporting staff.
“The work that they do is holy, and it is sacred, and we have a responsibility to tend to that,” she said.
The need to support medical employees spiritually and emotionally has not waned since March 2020.
“What I’m seeing and what I’m hearing is the sheer exhaustion and grief of beloved colleagues in the trenches, as I say, every day,” Jones said.
Chaplains help colleagues and patients cope with situations and circumstances through a variety of methods including conversations, mediation and music.
“The staff has given themselves permission to depend and rely on us more and trust that we are here for them and that they matter,” Jones said.
Brooks Johnson is a chaplain at Wake Forest Baptist Health High Point Medical Center.
He hasn’t stopped going into patients’ rooms to sit and provide a human touch. He asks for permission from the patient first and wears personal protective equipment.
In those moments, sometimes words are not needed.
“My job truthfully is to journey with folks,” Johnson said.
That journey includes respecting their choices.
“We have patients who are alert and oriented. They’re awake. They know what’s going on, but they get to a crossroad where whatever perhaps is happening internally with them, they come to their own conclusion to make the decision that ‘I can’t do this any longer. This is not how I wish to live my life,’” Johnson said. “When they remove that breathing apparatus, it’s pretty profound to see them die in that moment.”
The grief, fears and disappointments have not diminished since the pandemic began, but chaplains are honored to be a light in the tunnel.
It’s estimated that Wake Forest Baptist Health chaplains have cared for more than 2,000 people in some capacity over the last year (via phone, email, virtual visit, in person visit, etc.) across the health system’s facilities.