Spiritual Care team creates ways to bring people together during social distancing

April 21, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees

Pandemic isolation can be even more stressful when it disrupts family traditions and spiritual practices during religious holidays.

This April — the month many celebrate Easter, Passover and Ramadan — is also the most critical time for social distancing. So, how can Michigan Medicine’s chaplains bring spiritual comfort to patients, families and staff confronting COVID-19 when, in most cases, they aren’t able to be in a patient’s room?

“When patients are unable to draw on the emotional support of their families in their usual ways, their spiritual distress increases and their family members look to us to watch over their loved ones, offer spiritual support and sometimes a prayer,” said Rev. Christina Wright, Ph.D., associate director of spiritual care, who leads a team of 15 staff members and six students. “As hard as it has been working through this pandemic, it is inspirational to see our team’s creativity and gifts come to life. Whether it’s provided through virtual meditations, patient care over the phone or collaboration with clinical teams, we continue to provide care for these folks.”

Fawn, the facility dog who is also following “stay at home” orders, shared his favorite banana toy along with these inspiring words: “The present is where you live, friends, not the past or the future, and it’s waiting for you to come play.”

The team, which normally spends most of their time in clinical inpatient settings, have two-thirds of their team working from home: reaching out to family members by phone, developing a website of virtual resources, conveying family requests to the nursing staff and managing special services such as delivering kosher food during Passover.

The remaining one-third provide a comforting presence on the units. Since they can’t enter the rooms, with the exception of end-of-life situations, they pray behind doors and develop unique ways to comfort patients and their family members during these difficult times.

Here are a few examples:

  • Imam Kamau Ayubbi received a wife’s request to have a portion of the Quran recited for a COVID patient. Ayubbi found the appropriate YouTube recording and the nurse shared it on the Welcome Patient screen. The nurse reported back that her husband seemed comforted and appreciative and nodded when shown photographs of his grandchild. Ayubbi conveyed the news to the wife who responded with sobs and gratitude. 
  • Chaplain resident Fr. Josh Genig was in contact with a wife who just wanted to tell her husband that she loved him even though he wasn’t conscious. “I just want him to hear my voice,” she said. Genig arranged for a call and the nurse brought the phone into the unit. It meant the world to the patient’s wife.
  • Recently, nurses in the Regional Infectious Containment Unit (RICU) told the team that having the chaplains working outside the rooms reassured them that we were all working together to care for patients in the way the organization normally would, but which has become so challenging in the age of social distancing.
  • Chaplains also care for the physical and spiritual needs of Michigan Medicine staff, including delivering snacks, rounding on units and even sending daily email messages from Fawn, the facility dog who works with Rev. Rachel Brownson.

To support patients, family and staff during the crisis, the Spiritual Care Team quickly developed a website, which includes meditations and other resources.