Chaplains Minister to Body, Mind and Spirit

November 30, 2016

“I’m honored to be part of a ministry that holds up the dignity of the person, whether it is a patient, family member or co-worker. Mercy is very intentional about how it cares for its people.” - Curtis McLaughlin

By Curtis McLaughlin
manager, Pastoral Services, Mercy Hospital Joplin

Every hospital places tremendous emphasis on taking care of the physical needs of patients. In the midst of those challenging situations, one easily could overlook spiritual and emotional needs.

Mercy intentionally addresses the needs of the whole person: mind, body and spirit. This is a vital part of the health care ministry’s Catholic-Christian identity as Mercy is at the forefront of meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of patients.

Mercy chaplains always have been involved in the most critical situations within the hospital, including deaths, traumas and other emergencies. In the past three years, Mercy chaplaincy has expanded its spiritual care model because more than 98 percent of patients Mercy serves never spend the night in the hospital.

Here are three ways Mercy is striving to meet the needs of those outpatients:

  • Mercy Virtual chaplaincy. Patients who have complicated health histories that increase the chance of being readmitted to the hospital are provided with electronic tablets to gain greater access to their physician. With such technology, patients also can access a chaplain.
  • Clinic chaplaincy. During admission, the patient is asked if he or she has had a loss of hope, meaning or purpose. If the patient indicates such, this will automatically trigger a referral to pastoral services. Chaplains will follow up via telephone.
  • Transitional care management referrals. Once patients are discharged from the hospital, the care manager will assess the patient within 24 to 48 hours. The same questions regarding a loss of hope, meaning or purpose are asked. When appropriate, a referral is made to pastoral services for follow-up.

Preliminary results have shown that chaplain involvement for outpatients reduces hospital readmission rates. This means patients spend less time in the hospital and more time around their community and the things they enjoy.

Such broad-reaching support of patients is unprecedented in health care and is a little like building a bridge at the same time we’re crossing it, but we’re seeing the results as chaplains help patients and families deal with things like critical or chronic diagnoses.
Chaplains can begin a spiritual plan of care to assist families through this difficult season of life and navigate the emotional waters ahead.

Every patient has a story

Mercy’s overarching value is dignity – that all people are created in the image of God. Chaplains have the privilege of giving credence to the patient’s story. In doing so, the patient often draws strength and hope by merely remembering all he or she has encountered.

A major theme throughout scripture is the idea of remembering. The Old Testament prophets sought to remind the people of God’s promises. The New Testament also placed tremendous emphasis on remembering. At the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Chaplains get to journey with people through tremendous suffering, pain, sorrow and loss. In the midst of that, each patient has a story that we want them to remember. As patients remember what they have been through, often that helps them draw hope for the future.

During the holidays, people who have health challenges often have increased spiritual and emotional distress. This happens for a variety of reasons: a loss of mobility, diet restrictions, an empty chair at the table, etc.

If you find yourself feeling blue this holiday season, remember the times you have overcome. May you find hope as you recall your story. While you are reminiscing, count your blessings, for you truly are cherished as you are created in the image of God.

Curtis McLaughlin is the manager of pastoral services at Mercy Joplin. He graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary in 2009 and has a master of divinity. To conctact a Mercy chaplain, click here.