Should Chaplains also care for the staff?

Rev. Kim W. Chafee.

Chaplain’s, by nature, are care-givers. We are called on to provide spiritual and emotional care to our patient’s and their families. Because those needs can feel overwhelming, sometimes, it is easy to overlook those same needs within our own staff members.

The turnover rate for hospice staff is high. The emotional toll of taking physical and emotional care of patients who are dying, and supporting the families, can affect us more than we realize. Add in long hours and on-call, not to mention personal family matters, and physical and emotional burnout is a definite possibility.

So, what about the needs of our staff? A wise administrator will identify signs of burnout within their staff and recognize the chaplain’s ability to be an asset when it comes to assisting staff in negotiating the difficulties of life and work. Often, an employee just needs a listening ear.

One area that stands out is the need for recognizing when staff are overwhelmed with a particular case, and require more in-depth assistance in processing their thoughts and emotions concerning what happened.

Cases that I have been involved in assisting in this manner have been one in which the patient was relatively young and the staff were very emotionally attached to her; another in which the patient was one of our own volunteers who suffered an accident and could not recover. And yet another case involved a nurse’s spiritual difficulty dealing with a terminal extubation. All required more specific processing by the entire hospice team, (or sometimes just an individual) who were involved in patient care.  

Nurses are busy…extraordinarily busy, and it is (sometimes) difficult to convince them to take the time to provide appropriate self care. However, an emotionally healthy staff will result in deeper fulfillment, better care-giving, and ultimately, longer employee retention.

One idea that was beneficial to our staff was creating a way for management to express their appreciation to them. As a way to say “thank-you,” we created a “Thank-You Thursday,” that occurred on the first Thursday of each month. Staff members would vote on who they felt deserved special recognition for work well-done. I would deliver balloons and small gifts to the recipient, as well as a card, signed by all management staff, expressing their appreciation.

As hospice chaplain’s, our work is sacred, and caring for our co-workers should also be a priority…as well as caring for ourselves…but that’s another subject!

Rev Kim W. Chafee is a chaplain with @ Heart HomeCare & Hospice
Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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