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The Rev. Nicholas Sollom, hospital chaplain, recently prayed for a patient behind closed doors on NP 12, a temporary COVID-19 floor. Social distancing has changed the way YNHH’s chaplains minister to patients and their loved ones, but has not stopped them from caring for everyone who needs them, including staff.


Chaplains continue mission despite COVID challenge

 A highly-infectious virus means they can’t always be in the same room and look their patients in the eye. Visitor restrictions mean they often can’t hold the hands of family members in times of need. Social distancing makes supporting staff more difficult. Yet, despite these and other challenges created by COVID-19, Yale New Haven Hospital chaplains continue to care for everyone.

“Dealing with the hurdles that COVID-19 presents is new for all of us,” said the Rev. Susan Asher, YNHH director, Spiritual Care. “That said, we’re being creative and thinking outside the box to continue our mission to provide spiritual and emotional care to staff, patients and family members.”

The biggest challenge is the forced distancing. While many remain on site, staff chaplains are careful to follow guidelines designed to prevent COVID-19 transmission. The need to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) also limits access to patient rooms.

“We are there to be with patients and their families; to be there when they are going through their struggles,” said Bishop Lonnell Lawson. “Ours is a ministry of presence.”

Lawson and other chaplains rely on the phone and communication apps such as Zoom.

“Using these tools is another phase of ministry, but it is still direct ministry,” he said.

Rabbi Eliana Falk explained that unspoken gestures, such as holding a patient’s hand and making eye contact, are powerful tools she can’t always use, but she has found other methods for making an impact with seemingly small actions.

“There is a learning curve with ministering by phone,” Falk said. “You really have to listen to what is being said, and what isn’t. Right now, it’s a blessing when I have a COVID patient on the phone because it means they’re well enough to speak.”

Text messaging can be impactful. “Sometimes I text patients to let them know they’re not alone,” she said. “Even a few words in the form of a text message matter a great deal.”

Chaplains are also there for employees. The daily Blessing Line, 475-246-9663, is one of the creative ways Spiritual Care is making itself available to staff. Staff may also send prayer requests to a new email address, spiritualcare2@ynhh.org.

Chaplains are continuing traditional ministry methods by rounding on COVID and non-COVID units, attending staff huddles and sending broadcasts to Mobile Heartbeat phones.

“We are here 24/7 on both campuses,” Asher said. “We can provide support for the spiritual and emotional needs of our staff when they feel they need it.”

Whether ministering to patients, their families or staff, the Rev. Sandra Belcher said everyone understands the need for physical restrictions.

“I’ve called patient family members as far away as Idaho and as close as New Haven and they all appreciate the call because they can’t visit, but also because they know we’re still here for those who need us,” she said.

The Rev. Nicholas Sollom said he’s proud of the work he and his colleagues continue to perform amid the restrictions.

“What we have done, and what we’re encouraging each other to do, is take our skills and creatively re-envision how we can use them and provide that power of presence in new ways.”