Chaplains: The Heart of Hospice Care

September 4, 2020, Chaplains, Gilchrist

At the end of life, many people turn to spirituality or religion as they grapple with emotions and feelings about death and dying. Some may experience fear, remorse or anger, while others may feel at peace with their life and impending death. Hospice chaplains can help people come to terms with whatever emotions they are experiencing and address their spiritual needs at the end of life.

At Gilchrist, chaplains are an integral part of each patient’s hospice team. Gilchrist’s 19 chaplains are experienced professionals trained to work with people from any faith or background. Since 1994, Gilchrist’s chaplains have provided non-denominational spiritual support and counseling for thousands of seriously ill and end-of-life patients and their families.

“Issues of suffering are the one thing that binds humanity. Especially as chaplains, we are called to serve that suffering. It is served by compassion. This is the underlying principle we live by.”

Chaplain Don Hohne, BCC, Gilchrist’s Clinical Specialist for Spiritual Care

What Do Hospice Chaplains Do?

Chaplains help address a patient’s spiritual needs, providing counseling and comfort. These needs may include finding meaning in the face of suffering, finding a way to leave a legacy, making decisions about treatment, fulfilling their spiritual wishes and taking part in rituals of their faith.

Gilchrist chaplains also support families as the end of life nears and after a death. They may help family members ensure their loved one’s burial and ceremonies adhere to their religious or spiritual wishes.

One does not have to be religious to receive chaplain services. Chaplains meet with people of any belief or faith, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist or any other.

Spiritual care is a vital part of hospice. Medicare requires hospices to offer chaplain services alongside medical care, social work, bereavement, volunteer support and personal care. The chaplain works closely with the rest of the team to ensure coordination of medical and emotional treatments in the context of the patient’s spirituality.

A Deeper Look Into the Work of a Hospice Chaplain

For many people approaching the end of life, their faith shapes expectations about death. But the realities of terminal illness may challenge their faith and spiritual

confidence. They may be faced with difficult, upsetting decisions, disrupting their journey to a fulfilling end to life. Chaplains provide vital support by helping them reflect on life, anticipate death and reconcile their values with their decisions.

Gilchrist’s chaplains are trained experts in various spiritual and religious practices. They help facilitate conversations with the patient and family, and ensure all team members understand and enforce the patient’s wishes. Patients achieve greater calm once they are confident that their spiritual wishes will be honored.

Chaplaincy During the Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the chaplains are continuing their work with safety precautions. Integrating spirituality with patient care is particularly important now when many loved ones are separated, and the medical unknowns and sudden onset of severe illness can cause increased anxiety.

Patients no longer have their families reliably at their bedside. Their religious routines and gatherings are canceled, leaving them without their spiritual support networks. People are increasingly feeling isolated at a time when they most need togetherness and serenity.

Gilchrist chaplains continue to make in-person visits whenever possible and welcome. Donned in full personal protective equipment, they warmly join the patient and provide much-needed human and spiritual connection in this time of separation.

When in-person visits are not an option, hospice chaplains use telehealth to support patients’ spiritual needs and facilitate family discussions.

The Vital Role of Spiritual Care

The chaplain’s role is critical to caring for a person at the end of life. Spiritual care allows people to achieve peace and closure, and accept death without fear or regret. This peace is meaningful beyond measure. For loved ones left behind, the knowledge that their family member died at peace will bring comfort for the rest of their lives.

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