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Chaplains Find New Ways to Make Powerful Connections

JPS Health Network Executive Director of Spiritual Care and Ethics LeeAnn Franklin.

One of the toughest parts of the fight against COVID-19 is that the virus has forced hospitals around the globe to bar visitors from entering out of concern for the safety of patients and the healthcare workers providing care to them.

At JPS Health Network, a team of tireless chaplains is doing all it can to bridge the gap between patients in the hospital and their worried families forced to stay at home. They are still touching lives – but in new and different ways.

“We’ve changed how we’re doing chaplaincy because of circumstances,” said Lee Ann Franklin, Executive Director of Spiritual Care and Ethics at JPS. “We turned on a dime because it’s about keeping everybody safe and that is our top priority. We’re minimizing exposure all around. So, how do we support patients, family and staff in a way that does no harm?”

Busier than ever because chaplains are trying to do their normal work while connecting with family members at home, Franklin said her team has divvied up the work by going to 12-hour shifts, some working 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and others handling the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.

“We love to go into the rooms all over the hospital, see the patients’ – and family members’ faces and look them in the eye,” Franklin said. “Because we can’t do that right now, we’re making our rounds by phone.”

Anything I can do to bridge the gap between the patient and their family right now is something I want to do.

It’s not an ideal situation, Franklin said. But the chaplains are still making powerful connections, showing patients and their family members how much they care by being accessible in any way they can. They’re not only taking requests for support from patients, but they’re fielding calls from family members who want all the information about their hospitalized relatives they can get.

Staff chaplain Praice Edpot said he heard from a family shortly after JPS was forced to close its doors to visitors. Relatives were very worried about a patient who was feeling lonely and afraid in the hospital alone. The patient requested a bible but couldn’t read it herself, so Edpot did the only thing he could under the circumstances: He took the time to read passages to the patient over the phone. According to the nurse in the room, she smiled for the first time that dayas the chaplain shared stories of the bible and explained to the patient how they applied to her. Finally, she was able to relax enough to get some sleep.

“I was glad to be able to do something to help the patient,” Edpot said. “But I was also happy to be able to do something to help the family. Their stress levels are high and they feel guilty because they’re not able to be in the room with their loved one. Anything I can do to bridge the gap between the patient and their family right now is something I want to do.”

Franklin said the situation is far from perfect. But she and her team are going to keep working to make things as comfortable as possible until COVID-19 is brought under control and visitors can once again come and go freely.

“We’re learning new things every day,” Franklin said. “The amazing thing about JPS leaders and team members is that they are so agile. We have to continue to learn and recreate things every day. We want nurses, techs, patient sitters, unit clerks and everyone else to know if family members have concerns that we’re there to assist them in any way we can.”