Behind the Scenes at Avera McKennan: Chaplains Provide Spiritual Health

In the Avera McKennan chaplaincy office, one notices a piece of unusual office furniture: a bed. It’s for the on-call chaplains who don’t want to leave the hospital on an overnight shift.

At 8:30 a.m., the three chaplains in the room jump in synchrony. It’s in response to their pagers notifying them of the scheduled Intensive Care Unit rounds.

Jerry Vander Lee has taken that part of the hospital for the day and joins the large care team making its way through the ICU hall, patient by patient.

While the chaplains don’t contribute to the clinical discussion,and carry a prayer book instead of a clipboard, their presence is important.

Power of Prayer

According to Gary Weisbrich, director of chaplaincy, chaplains are members of the care team just like a doctor or nurse. They even contribute to the patient chart.

And unlike medical jargon, prayer transcends language.

On his morning rounds, Vander Lee entered the room of a patient who didn’t know English. After the option of a translation phone fell through, Vander Lee signaled the sign of the cross.

The woman nodded in approval, and the three of us bowed our heads.

After finishing with the universally understood word of “Amen,” the woman thanked Vander Lee, clearly touched by the moment.

“One gift I really have to offer anybody is time,” Vander Lee said. “Chaplaincy is a ministry of time.”

While the hospital is affiliated with Catholicism, everyone can be visited by a chaplain.

“Catholic means universal so we really serve all denominations,” Weisbrich said.

The staff of 11 chaplains, three of which are full-time, includes a Catholic priest and deacon, an Episcopal deacon, and those of other religious training.

“The purpose of my team is to meet people where they are at and help them connect with the strength they have within, not to convert any patients,” Weisbrich said.

And it’s not only patients who are able to visit with the chaplains; Avera McKennan employees also use the chaplains as a resource.

Ministry and Health

Chaplains also play an important role in hospital administration. A chaplain sits on the institutional review board (which oversees research proposals) and the ethics, spirit, and problem resolution/ grievance committees.

Megan Eide, Vander Lee and Ben Eisele, a chaplaincy intern going through Avera’s Clinical Pastoral Education program, meet in the cafeteria over a little liquid caffeine.

Later, Eide tells me that one of the more difficult parts of her job is losing contact with patients and families she has connected with during their stay.

“My intent is to bring a spirit of peace and comfort to a situation which is otherwise chaotic, tense and stressful for family but also staff,” said Megan Eide.

By Kristina Johnson

Marketing Intern at Avera McKennan

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