Workplace Chaplains and COVID-19

Workplace chaplains are not a new idea. During the Industrial Revolution, pastors would preach from the factory floors. In the nineteenth-century Catholic teachings declared it was the duty of the Church to minister to the working poor and during the Great Depression, chaplains were hired to visit the workers on the Hoover Dam.

In recent years, companies have begun to hire chaplains as part of their staff. This is another way companies are trying to make workers more productive by ministering to their “whole” selves. These chaplains can give advice on everything from divorce to cancer, conduct weddings or funerals, refer people to local churches, and even refer workers to professional psychologists.

The Value Chaplains Bring.

David Miller, a Princeton professor who studies faith and work, knows how much having a workplace chaplain adds value to the company. The added value comes from a lower turnover rate, increased levels of focus, and a reduction in stress-related illnesses.

Miller said, “In different situations, we seek and heal through different kinds of help and services. Sometimes it’s a medical service, sometimes it’s just a friend to cry on their shoulder, and other times there’s a spiritual dimension to it.”

For many, religious leaders and institutions provide this support structure, but for those who don’t have that support. work is the logical place to look for help. As Miller put it in a 2013 paper,  “Due to people not having sufficient social support networks, whether at church, in the family, or community, it has become necessary for the work organization to become the new community.”

But today things have changed and many workplace chaplains have had to get creative in how they deal with the people they are helping.

One Chaplain’s Look at the Value She Brings.

I spoke to Lynn Armstrong, a Trauma Center chaplain at Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) in Florida, she said that when COVID-19 first hit, chaplains were not allowed to go into patient rooms in order to save personal protective equipment (PPE) so she used the phone and an Ipad to communicate with the patients and their families.

Lynn said that her job in the Trauma Center is to help in finding the next of kin of a patient and that sometimes that is very hard, the Trauma Center may have to use fingerprints to identify a patient, and sometimes an identification is not made until the patient reaches the medical examiner’s office.

Another part of her job is dealing with families who have come to the ER to be with their family member. With the new hospital rules, only one or two family members are allowed to visit, and this can be very distressing to the families, especially if their family member is dying. And if the family member was a victim of a crime, no one is allowed to visit. Lynn said that she helps to calm situations like this but that COVID-19 has made her job harder.

I also spoke to Craig Daugherty, a Cornerstone Hospice chaplain at the Acute Care Inpatient Unit at ORMC. As a Hospice chaplain, Craig sees patients that usually have only a few days to live and are unable to communicate. He provides spiritual care during this time to connect with whatever the patient considers devine. He also helps make connections for patients and families to what is important during the end of life experience.

Before COVID-19, the family could come and stay with the patient 24/7 and they could bring pets and items from home, but now they have to follow the hospital’s rules which means one visitor a day. These new rules and the stress of facing family members end of life have caused emotions to be more intense and it’s Craig’s job to help the family understand the new rules and to find ways to help them feel like they are still a part of the process.

Craig says that these days he uses a lot of video chat these days, which allows family members to see and talk to their loved one. The family is still able to say their goodbyes even though they can’t be there in person.

These two chaplains not only have to deal with the new way of doing things but they also have to worry about bringing COVID-19 home to their families. Craig told me he takes a shower in a bathroom close to the back door as soon as he gets home and before seeing any of his family in order to protect them from COVID-19.

Workplace chaplains are able to provide much-needed comfort to those who need it and can’t find it elsewhere. Today that is more important than ever given all the layoffs and even the people returning to work, everyone needs that support structure to lean on.