When you think of hospital staff, you often first think of the doctors, nurses and other clinical team members caring for patients at the bedside. However, there’s another important group of the Bon Secours health team that play a pivotal part in the healing process for both patients and staff – our chaplains.
“There are things that bring us joy and give our lives meaning and purpose,” Dan Kirkpatrick, a chaplain, shares. “For some of us, that comes from a particular faith tradition that’s part of our spiritual makeup, and there are ways we can affirm that through spiritual care by reading scripture or prayer. There’s an importance in connecting with people and recognizing that we’re all created in God’s image.”
Dan is one of 10 chaplains who serve on our spiritual care team at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System in Greenville. Father Jonathan Duncan, who joined the group in 2019 as director, oversees the team’s work and says some of the most important things happen when they gather for prayer.
“It’s a time for us as chaplains to be together as a team,” Father Duncan shares. “Throughout the day, we meet so many people who ask us to pray for their personal condition, son, wife, parent or whomever they are visiting. This gives us the opportunity to do that as a group.”
The role of chaplain has always been an important part of our ministry’s commitment to creating communities of health, hope and well-being through holistic treatment – healing for the mind, body and spirit. The spiritual care team’s impact is present in everything from the opening prayers at staff meetings to training sessions that help team members learn to how to handle high-stress situations with patients and families.
Father Duncan adds, “there’s a component of being a director where I provide leadership and direction throughout the day. This can be through meetings or trainings, but also in blessings. When we open a new facility, I do blessings and sprinkle it with holy water, which is our way of setting apart or marking a space as not just a hospital, but a ministry where we can help people. Similarly, we do a ‘Blessing of the Hands’ for our team members.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, chaplains became even more crucial to ailing patients who were sometimes separated from their families. In some cases, the chaplains even donned protective gear and put their own safety at risk, just so they could visit and support the sickest of patients during their most vulnerable moments.
“One of the biggest challenges for patients and their families was physical separation in a time when they needed emotional support,” Dan says. “So, we did what we could to fill that gap. We used tablets and cellphones to help patients and family members connect virtually.”
Additionally, the chaplains work with health care leaders to facilitate spiritual care from a patient’s faith community. However, it isn’t just patients who chaplains help support.
“A lot of our staff was under a great deal of stress as well, sometimes feeling as if their efforts were futile because of how hard it was to manage this disease,” Dan explains. “So, we tried to create spaces around the hospitals to help them get away and have time to pray, meditate or just sit quietly. We also made sure they knew we were there to listen.”
Father Duncan shares the moments of prayer, blessings and even last rights experienced during such trying times are proof that a spiritual care team is key to holistic health care.
“These were the moments that reinforce the belief in my life that this is what I am called to do. It’s why we’re here.”
Though Father Duncan is a Catholic working within a Catholic health system, the spiritual care team is comprised of many different denominations of faith to serve anyone who walks through the hospital doors.
“Sometimes there are particular things each of us can offer to patients because of who we are racially, ethnically, spiritually, even as a result of our gender,” Dan adds. “As Greenville grows, the amount of diversity increases with it, so we are grateful to have that diverse staff. However, we also recognize the centrality of serving with a faith-based health system, because spiritual care is central to what we offer.”
Learn more about our spiritual care efforts at Bon Secours.