As the Health Care Workers Face Extraordinary and Unprecedented Emotional Challenges, Hackensack Meridian Health Offers Spiritual Care for Team Members in Response to COVID-19

April 24, 2020

If there was ever a time when health care workers needed a spiritual lift, it’s right now. Day after day, caregivers are experiencing a level of death and grief that is unprecedented. The tremendous loss of life is compounded by the sorrow they feel because family members can’t be with their loved ones in the hospital. Time and again, doctors and nurses bear witness to a patient’s final breath. As compassionate individuals who joined a profession of healing, the continuous process takes a heavy toll.

Recognizing that even caregivers need care, Hackensack Meridian Health has created the Spiritual Care Program to help team members deal with complex emotions in response to work related to COVID-19. The program is based upon providing access to sources of spiritual strength and inspiration.

“As our team members meet the extraordinary challenges of this pandemic, we are committed to supporting their well-being in every way possible,” said Robert C. Garrett, FACHE, chief executive officer of Hackensack Meridian Health. “Many health care providers on the front lines of COVID-19 are providing extensive patient care while acting as surrogate family members for patients who are in isolation and separated from their own loved ones.”

Some team members are also concerned with how the virus is impacting or might impact their colleagues and family members. To address all of these concerns, the Spiritual Care Program provides guidance and support focused around five categories of grief, fear, hope, faith and inner peace, and meditation, gratitude and purpose.

“Hackensack Meridian Health, the chaplains at each campus, and clergy from the community are collaborating in support of our courageous and dedicated team members as they work through this crisis,” said Reverend David Cotton, regional director of Spiritual Care Services at Hackensack Meridian Health. “That collaboration extends to our colleagues in Integrative Health & Medicine and Behavioral Health, as we all share our strength, resources, and best practices during this time of change and stress.”

The program, which launched this week, is an extension of the health network’s chaplaincy service, which provides specially-trained, multi-faith clergy, who in this context will offer multi-platform support to team members, ranging from the scriptural to the practical.

“Fear and grief and hope pertain to human experience,” said Reverend Cotton.  “As professional chaplains, we are trained to minister to everyone. We recognize that people may be spiritual, but not religious – the idea is to have our arms open as wide as possible.”

For all team members seeking respite and relief, the program will manifest in several forms that provide comfort and strength in written and spoken words. Resources include brief clergy-hosted videos and audio recordings that team members can tune into going to and from work or while on a break; inspirational written interpretations; a dedicated email through the health network’s intranet to make prayer requests; and a designated quiet room in each hospital to use for meditation, self-care, prayer, reflection or just a calm place to retreat to for a break.

“Every spiritual and religious tradition emphasizes caring for the other, especially caring, regardless of  the circumstance and sacrifice, putting yourself second and putting the patient first is the ethic we all share,” said Reverend Cotton. “It’s the humility and majesty of service.”